It was a Wednesday afternoon on April 26, 2008, and I was at a track meet at Kellam High School. Kempsville was facing Kellam, Tallwood, and First Colonial. The day had been going great so far. Our two mile relay team had won first place easily, and I’d just finished up with a fantastic race in the eight hundred meter run where I came in second place. I headed over to the pole vault pit to finish beating the competition once again. I had cleared eleven feet easily before the race and the crossbar was now at 11’6, with only one other competitor left. Billie Godfrey from First Colonial High School, he was good but inconsistent; I knew I’d beat him.
I held the back of my right knee off and on while I walked over. It hurt badly, as it sometimes it did that after a really intense race or workout. I was exhausted from the rather impressive race I’d just run but had no doubt about who would win first in pole vault that day. I rested my arms on a small fence close to the runway for a few minutes; I had ten minutes of rest according to the rules after all. My pole vault coach Kevin Warren was nagging me to quit wasting time and just jump. I figured what the hell, why not. As I walked over towards my pole, the other vaulters, some friends, and even the coaches nearby congratulated me on my performance. I just smiled and said thanks; I was never one to get excited about things and make a big fuss. I took my sweet time getting back to my mark because I was still huffing and puffing from the race. When I got there, I checked my hand grip carefully before doing anything else. Then I got my pole into position and checked my mark; I was set to go.
I concentrated on the box; where you stick the pole, and went over everything I knew I had to do in order to clear the height. I took one small step back with my right foot then bounded down the runway. Immediately I knew something was off because I was moving too slowly. My legs were heavy with exhaustion and seemed only to stretch out farther rather than reach higher for more speed. It was too late though; I had to at least make the attempt as I was no quitter. As I tried to plant the pole in the box and jump, nothing went right and it all just seemed to fall apart. I never made it into the air but rather just sort of stumbled into the mat with one hand still holding the pole and the other flailing wildly. It was cool; I was still just too tired from the race, and I knew I’d get it on the next attempt. While I walked back to my mark for another try, I could hear my coach make a quick comment to the others about how my next attempt would be a little better, and my last would be my best. I took my time getting set for the next attempt; I needed to concentrate on the basics in order to ensure a better jump. I looked down the runway at the pit and the crossbar. “You can do this,” I told myself, shaking my head as if to rid myself of distracting and unneeded thoughts. I got set again then took off, focusing on speed and counting my steps, two things which I failed to do on my previous jump. I knew this would be a better jump as I neared the box and prepared to plant the pole. I jumped up maintaining form and began to swing up, but something was wrong. I still hadn’t gone fast enough and I had only just realized it. I reached the top of my jump; 11’6, and just kind of stalled out in front of the bar. I had been swinging my left leg up while keeping my right knee jacked up, but then was forced to curl up slightly when my momentum failed to carry me farther. As I slowed to a stop just inches from the bar my weight started to bear down on me and my body dragged itself down. My arms weren’t prepared to hold my weight up in such an unexpected and dangerous fashion. I lost my grip and dropped towards the box. In those precious few moments when the ground rushed up to meet me, I realized that this wouldn’t end well.
I could hear someone call “comin down” as if from a distance. I could see that I was dead center in the box and wouldn’t land on the mats, I knew that the steel plate of the box and cement underneath it would almost certainly break a leg or an ankle if I were to land on them from that height. With just milliseconds of time before I impacted the ground, my mind was scrambling for a way out, for a way to save myself from a season ending injury. The yellow liner! I eyed the small thin yellow cushion/mat that lined the outside of the box. I knew I couldn’t land on it, but if I could just get even on foot to make it there I’d save myself from a lot of pain and misery. I went for it and reached to the side with my right leg and aimed for the mat. When I landed my right leg hit the mat first and went out at an impossible and unnatural angle. I heard/felt a loud hollow pop followed by several crunching sounds and smaller pops. I let out a small short yell and immediately pushed myself up and over onto the mat in order to try and alleviate the excruciating pain I was in. People rushed in all around me and I was overwhelmed by a flurry of questions. “I’m fine” I said weakly; gripping my right knee fiercely, trying to keep it from moving even one millimeter.
After a few quick tests to show the coaches I still had range of motion I lay there for a few minutes hoping the pain would go away, but it didn’t. Kelly Ranz, a close friend of mine, helped me get over to the trainer. I insisted on walking without leaning on her; despite the country accented “Boy” I got from her blonde haired, azure eyed face. The trainer checked me out and told me I had completely torn my ACL and sprained my MCL, although it was actually torn as well. The head coach from my team, Tim Wolf, came over while I was getting looked at and one of the first things he said while he was talking on his cell was “I told you so.” There was some small controversy over the trainers’ prognosis because typically when someone tears their ACL, their knee swells up immensely; mine didn’t, so we weren’t sure what was really wrong. My pole vault coach was convinced I was fine, but I knew I wasn’t. As an athlete, I was used to getting strains, pains, and bruises from training and other things, but this time it was different. I’d never had an injury that felt anything like that and not just from the pain. I was furious at myself for screwing up and at my coaches for making me run when I didn’t have to. If I hadn’t run that race, I never would have hurt myself, but I knew that nobody made me do it but myself. I knew I wouldn’t be competing at Dogwood; the biggest track meet in Virginia, that weekend. There went my one and only shot for scouts from colleges to look at me; there went my season. An MRI a few months later revealed that I had in fact suffered a severe knee injury which would require surgery to remedy.
Because of that accident I was forced to limit my training and eventually quit for the season. I had to get reconstructive surgery which would take six months to recover from! The summer of intense training I had planned was instead relegated to video games and nothing. I learned to always be cautious even in confidence, because you can go from the dude who just destroyed everyone in the eight hundred, to the cripple who’s going have knee problems for the rest of his life in just a few short moments.