Feb. 10, 2011
Vaulting to the top
By David Boyce
A number sticks in the mind of Northwest Missouri State sophomore Will Haer like a chewed up piece of gum that's lost its flavor.
Haer wants 3 centimeters erased from his jumping psyche. As a freshman, Haer came just 3 centimeters short of the provisional mark of 15 feet, 9 inches in the pole vault to qualify for the national indoor meet.
To solidify that number in his brain, Haer was also 3 centimeters short of the provisional outdoor height of 15-10 to qualify for nationals.
"So when you are talking 15-9 or 15-10, 3 centimeters doesn't seem like a lot, but it is kind of depressing," Haer said.
It has weighed on Haer so much that he started to lose the passion for the event that grabbed him as a freshman in high school.
Haer wasn't jumping as high as he was in high school. His best jump so far this season is 15-3.
Pole vaulting, though, is too ingrained in Haer for him to truly lose his love for the sport. He heads into Saturday's Concordia Invite in Nebraska Saturday determined to reach 15-9.
"I'm pretty confident about it right now," he said. "I've been practicing a lot of things that I've been having problems with so I hope I can put it together this weekend.
"I'm really getting the passion for it again. It's starting to be something that's a lot of fun."
Haer is a self-made pole vaulter. His rise is an unlikely story. He grew up in Craig, Mo., which is in the northwest corner of the state. The population in 2000 was 309.
Haer's graduating class was nine, which prompted one of his Northwest track teammates to remark "where did you rank?"
The Class 1 school never had a pole vaulter until Haer showed up.
"I saw some kids do it at Rock Port at one of the track meets I went to as a freshman," Haer said. "I asked the coach if I could do it and he said if you can find a pole vault you can try it and it went from there."
His high school didn't have a pole vault pit. It didn't stop Haer.
"At first I did it in the sand pit my freshman year," he said. "And then some people from Mound City, this guy had a pole vault pit and he let me have it. It was just a small one they bought for the school that became too small to use. So I got to have it at my house."
Haer made the Missouri Class 1 state meet as a sophomore and was the state champion his junior and senior years. His senior year he also broke the state meet record with a jump of 15-0. His top mark in high school was 15-3.
Now that he's in his second season competing in college, Haer wants to soar above 15-3 consistently. Heights of 15-9, 15-10 and higher should become routine.
But he's also conscious of why he's taking a small step back for a future of big leaps forward.
"The training and everything puts a lot more strain in college," he said.
"I only jump twice a week, but I do the running workouts with the sprinters and the lifting with the team twice a week. You do the technique practices, too."
But on those days when the jumps just don't go quite the way he expects, Haer can always reach back in his mind to what drew him to the event.
"I just wanted to do it," he said. "It's just a rush. There is no feeling like it when you are up there."
And now there is something new he wants to go through in the pole vault. He wants to qualify for the national meet.
"I would really like it," he said. "It's an experience I really want to have."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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