Just got this from my buddy, Peter McGinnis. Most of you know Peter is a super guy but he is also the biomechanist for USA Track & Field pole vault and fellow masters vaulter. Each year he sends me detailed velocity, momentum and angles and other physics data about the latest vaulters from the biggest meets in the world. He is a PhD in Physics and teaches at State University New York, Cortland. This is a speech he gave to the top 5% honors class at their university where he equates pole vaulting to lessons of life. Very cool. He has given me permission to post and distribute it. Enjoy! Bubba
Bubba - I was asked to deliver the Honors Convocation Address at SUNY Cortland's Honor's Convocation last weekend. This event is for the top 5% of students in each class year in the College as well as other academic award winners. Parents, families and friends usually attend. You are the most positive and passionate person I know - at least when it comes to pole vault, so, I thought you might want to read my speech - since it was entitled "Life Lessons Learned from Pole Vaulting". I don't think there were any pole vaulters in the audience (I am embarrassed to say that only one of my vaulters is in the top 5% of her class and she wasn't able to attend) - but I had a number of people comment about the speech. It's the first time I've ever done anything like this - no props, no powerpoint, etc. - but it went well.The speech is attached - I hope you enjoy it. Congrats to Kirk for his performance in Boston! Vault high and land softly-PeterPeter M. McGinnis, Ph.D.Professor - Kinesiology Assistant Director - Graduate Studies Office Assistant Coach - Men's & Women's Track & Field (Pole Vault) SUNY Cortland P.O. Box 2000 Cortland, New York 13045 KIN phone: (607) 753-4909 GSO phone: (607) 753-4800GSO fax: (607) 753-5988
LESSONS LEARNED FROM POLE VAULTING
SUNY Cortland Honors Convocation • April 17, 2010
Thank you President Bitterbaum. Good evening honored students, parents, family and friends, and colleagues. I am honored to speak on this occasion when you - our best students are recognized for your achievements. Congratulations to each and every one of you.
Tonight I want to share with you a dozen life lessons I’ve learned from pole vaulting -as a pole vaulter, a pole vault coach, a fan, and a sports scientist. But first, let me tell you a little about pole vaulting. Pole vaulting is a track and field event in which an athlete uses along pole to jump over a crossbar. The vaulter who clears the highest bar wins the event.In 2003, USA Today declared pole vaulting 15 feet as the 3rd hardest thing to do in sports - behind hitting a 90 mph fastball and driving a race car 200 mph around a track -but ahead of hitting a golf ball straight and long and returning a 130 mph tennis serve. I can’t hit a golf ball straight or return a 130 mph serve. I am pretty sure that I could drive a race car faster than 200 mph - but not around a track - and not with other cars on the track.There’s no way I could come close to hitting a 90 mph fastball. But - I have vaulted 15 feet- so I think USA Today made a mistake.
Now, let me tell you about the lessons I’ve learned:
LESSON 1.The best pole vaulters are passionate about their sport. Their enthusiasm is infectious and inspiring. Find a cause or calling to be passionate about … and find people who share your passion. You’ll be one of the luckiest people in the world if you can find a job that involves this passion - you’ll never think of work as work. Even if you can’t be passionate about your job - a cause to care about will give your life more meaning. I am passionate about pole vaulting and teaching biomechanics. I get a paycheck for one of these and receive intrinsic reward from both. I am one of those lucky people!
LESSON 1: BE ENTHUSIASTIC AND COMMIT YOURSELF TO SOMETHING.
LESSON 2. In 1982 I was a graduate student when my advisor asked me if I wanted to be the biomechanist for the pole vault event in the U.S. Olympic Committee’s newly established Elite Athlete Project. Without hesitation - I said yes. That opportunity almost 30 years ago allowed me to pursue my passions of pole vaulting and biomechanics in ways that I couldn’t imagine.
LESSON 2: RECOGNIZE OPPORTUNITIES AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THEM.
LESSON 3: Eight years ago a prospective student, Steve, and his mother stopped by my office.They wanted to know if Steve would have an opportunity to pole vault at Cortland even though the heights he had achieved were modest. My philosophy as a coach was to allow anyone to join the pole vault crew if they were enthusiastic about the event. Steve fit this criteria and I told him I would be happy to have him vault at Cortland. Steve came to Cortland and joined the team. He steadily improved and his enthusiasm for the sport was good for the team. During Steve’s senior year, the College received a $30,000 gift from a charitable foundation run by ... Steve’s family. Much to my surprise, the gift was earmarked specifically for the pole vaulting program at SUNY Cortland. That spring Steve won the conference pole vault championship. Providing Steve with the opportunity to pole vault at Cortland paid back unexpected dividends - to him and to Cortland.
LESSON 3: TAKE TIME AND PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR OTHERS - IT’S WORTH IT
LESSON 4.Goal setting is important and making plans to achieve your goals is just as important. But, sometimes life throws you a curveball. OOPS - that’s a baseball analogy. Let me get back to pole vaulting.
In 1996, Jeff Hartwig’s long term goal was to win a medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in the pole vault. But, he surprised himself when he won a spot on the 1996 Olympic Team and placed 11th at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Four years later - he was the American record holder and his plan to win a medal at the 2000 Olympics was going according to schedule. But, at the 2000 Olympic Trials - - he failed to make the Olympic team. In 2004Jeff tried again, but once again he failed to make the Olympic team. By then he was 36 and well past the prime age for pole vaulting.
LESSON 4: SET GOALS AND MAKE A PLAN – BUT EXPECT DETOURS.
LESSON 5. My biomechanical studies of the pole vault reveal that pole vaulters jump higher if theyrun faster. Most athletes are fastest when they are in their early to mid-20’s. On the other hand, perfecting the skill of pole vaulting requires tens of thousands of repetitions – so, many vaulters don’t reach their peak until their late 20’s or early 30’s. Perfecting pole vault technique requires patience and commitment.
Now back to Jeff Hartwig. He had unexpectedly made the Olympic Team before his prime - but did not make the team when he was at his prime. At the end of the 2004season, he was almost 37. He made a decision to keep vaulting but in January 2007 Jeff told me he would retire in September when he turned 40. Something unexpected happened that year - Jeff won the national indoor championships and placed second at the outdoor championships. He had such a great season that he decided to vault for one more year and give the Olympics one more shot. In the summer of 2008, Jeff earned a place on the Olympic Team at the age of 40. He didn’t vault as well in the Olympics as he had in 1996,but his Olympic experience was more meaningful. His patience and commitment paid off with his second trip to the Olympic Games - 12 years after his first.
LESSON 5: BE PATIENT AND STAY FOCUSED
LESSON 6. In 1960, Don Bragg set a world record and won the gold medal in the pole vault at the Olympic Games. His teammate, Ron Morris, won the silver medal. They both vaulted on steel poles. Don Bragg's world record was broken less than a year later by a vaulter using anew technology - a fiberglass pole. Don Bragg did not adapt to this new pole technology.He unsuccessfully lobbied the rules makers to ban the pole. Ron Morris on the other hand,accepted the new technology and learned how to use it. In 1962 he won the U.S.Championship on a fiberglass pole and was ranked the number one pole vaulter in the world. Ron Morris embraced the change - Don Bragg did not.
As SUNY Cortland Philosophy Professor Larry Ashley says, “shift happens.” Be willing to adapt to changes and accept new technologies.
LESSON 6: BE FLEXIBLE - CHANGE WILL HAPPEN.
LESSON 7: Pole vaulters deal with disappointment and failure every time they compete. Almost every competition ends with a failure - a miss. Sometimes these misses and failures are due to things not controlled by the vaulter.
In 1972, Bob Seagren was the world record holder and the heavy favorite to win the pole vault gold medal at the Olympic Games. American vaulters had also won every Olympic gold medal in the pole vault since the modern Olympic Games began in 1896.Two days before the pole vault competition, Olympic officials confiscated all of the Americans’ poles, claiming they were an unfair advantage when in reality they were just a different color. Bob and his teammates had to use borrowed poles at the Games. Bob did not win a gold medal, but he didn’t give up either. He was able to vault high enough to win a silver medal.
LESSON 7: LIFE IS SOMETIMES UNFAIR – DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY - MAKE THE BEST OF IT.
LESSON 8. When my nephew was five he surprised his parents by cutting his own hair. When my brother commented about his unusual haircut my nephew said– “But Dad, I like to be unusual.” Although I don’t recommend that you cut your own hair - don’t be afraid to be the different.
In 2005, Megan, one of my best Cortland vaulters, began struggling with her technique.In practice one day, Megan, with my encouragement, decided to try a radically different technique. This new technique produced positive results in practice– so we decided to try it in competition. Megan steadily progressed and she became the first Cortland woman to jump higher than 11 feet. Megan graduated the next year, but her legacy lived on with the incoming vaulters. Several of them adopted her technique. Two of them, eventually recorded the highest vaults by any women in Cortland history and in the SUNY AC Conference as well.
LESSON 8: TAKE RISKS – DARE TO BE DIFFERENT, EVEN UNUSUAL
LESSON 9: Great pole vaulters are not complacent. They know that records are made to be broken. They continually seek out ways to improve their performances by learning more about the event. Your formal education may end when you graduate from Cortland, but you will continue to learn new things throughout your life.
Since 1983, I have been the biomechanist for the pole vault event for USA Track and Field. In this role, I get to travel to every US outdoor championship and film the pole vault competitions. I then measure and analyze biomechanical data from these films and give the athletes and coaches feedback. I am considered the expert on the mechanics of thepole vault. It’s scary to be considered an expert, because the more you learn aboutsomething – the more you realize you don’t know and the more questions you have. But,as an expert – everyone thinks you have all the answers. The funny thing is, in 1983, Ithought I knew everything about the pole vault– fortunately, I soon realized how wrong Iwas and that realization has kept me humble. Megan’s story about her new techniqueillustrates this lesson. I continue to learn new things about pole vaulting and biomechanicsevery day.
LESSON 9: DON’T BE COMPLACENT – NEVER STOP LEARNING AND IMPROVING
LESSON 10. Pole vaulters want everyone to do well and vault high - they know that the competition is not against each other but against themselves and the bar. They celebrate each other’s successes and share each other’s disappointments.
In 1976, Earl Bell was a 20 year old college student competing in the U. S. Olympic Trials. Three competitors were left in the competition when the bar was raised to a new world record height. The first vaulter to jump was Dave Roberts. Dave’s pole broke on his first attempt. Yikes! In desperation, Dave then asked Earl if he could use his pole. Without hesitation, Earl said, “Certainly, but let me take my jumps first.” Earl missed three times and was out - he then gave his pole to Dave, who not only won the competition but also set anew world record - with Earl’s pole. What is more remarkable is that the previous world record holder was Earl Bell!
LESSON 10: COMPETITION IS GOOD BUT COOPERATION IS MUCH BETTER.
LESSON 11: Although pole vaulting is an individual event, the support from parents, fans, teammates, and coaches contributes immeasurably to the success of each pole vaulter.This is true in life as well. You are being honored today for your individual achievements,but those achievements may not have been possible without the support and encouragement of your family, friends, and teachers – many of whom are here tonight.The same is true for me. In fact, I’d like to thank my father, Phil McGinnis, two of my sisters, Donna Higgins and Bryn Burke, and my wife, Boodie – for being here tonight to support me. Thanks.
LESSON 11: DON’T GO IT ALONE – LIFE IS RICHER WHEN YOU CARE ABOUT OTHERS AND ALLOW THEM TO CARE ABOUT YOU
LESSON 12.To paraphrase Pierre DeCoubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, “The most important thing … is not to win but to take part … not the triumph but the struggle.”
LESSON 12: HAVE FUN AND ENJOY THE JOURNEY
Thank you for not snoring – and congratulations to all of you