June 7, 2012

Riverfest’s newest event





That’s what it takes to be a pole vaulter, said Denis Fraizer, coach for Wichita’s public high schools and most Catholic schools.

Being “a little nutsy,” he joked, doesn’t hurt, either.

“You have to be gutsy enough to at least come out and try it. And then stick with it.”

That’s what people at the Wichita River Festival will have a chance to witness Saturday when more than 75 pole vaulters showcase their skills at River Vault, a new event for 2012. It’s pole vaulting taken to the streets in a fun-filled, energetic show, Fraizer said.

Some like Olympic hopeful Jordan Scott, a champion vaulter expected Saturday who’s known for his dyed hairstyles, can clear an 18-foot bar.

“The people are right there, five to 10 feet away from the mat, watching these people jump,” he said. “They are never able to get that close to them.”

The all-day event starts at 10 a.m. Saturday east of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. McLean will be closed to vehicle traffic between Douglas and Lewis Street to accommodate two pits with elevated runways where athletes will jump. The event will move to Century II Expo Hall if weather is severe. Vaulting wraps up at 9 p.m.

The USA Track & Field-sanctioned event gives athletes a chance to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team trials, held later this month in Eugene, Ore. Others, like event co-coordinator Wes Hawk’s children, will strive for a personal best.

“It’s one of the original extreme sports,” said Hawk, a father of five, two of whom pole vault.

His 15-year-old daughter, Bishop Carroll sophomore Caitlin Hawk, jumps 9-feet, 6-inches. Weston, barely 9, vaults about 4 feet. He will be one of River Vault’s youngest participants.

“He’s doing very well and is learning the technique,” Wes Hawk said. “The kids want to come out and jump in front of a big crowd. That gets them pumped up.”

Money raised Saturday will help buy poles – which cost $700 or more new – and safer equipment for kids vaulting at Wichita’s public and Catholic schools and in a local pole vaulting club, Lakeside Leapers, which is co-sponsoring the event.

That’s something Chase Kear wants to see.

The former Hutchinson Community College athlete cracked his skull from ear to ear in a 2008 pole vaulting accident. More safety equipment might have lessened the damage, he said.

“It’s very important,” Kear, 23, said about safety equipment. “There’s no point in having it if you don’t use it. … We had enough, but there’s always room from more.”

Kear, who will make an appearance Saturday, says he’s in training for next year’s River Vault event. His goal is to clear 12 feet.

“Vaulting doesn’t scare me. Never has, never will,” he said.

The biggest part of pole vaulting safety is awareness, he added.

“Anything to make it safer.”

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