EMU's Booth vaults to silver medal at National Senior Olympics
YPSILANTI - A few small steps down the runway. One giant leap for Howard Booth.
Booth, an Eastern Michigan University professor of biology, recently took home the silver medal in the pole vault at the National Senior Olympics in Pittsburgh, Pa. Booth, 61, cleared 9 feet to capture second place in the 60-64 age group.
"After a 39-year hiatus, I thought I would dust off my pole vaulting skills," said Booth, who was a pole vaulter for EMU's track and field team when he was an undergraduate student.
More than 70 men waited a half-day in the rain before the pole vault event began, Booth said of the competition. Unfazed by what he termed "sporadic rain and blustery winds," Booth cleared 9 feet to take the silver medal.
Nearly four decades ago, Booth vaulted 12 feet, 8 inches to take third in the President Athletic Conference, of which EMU was a member at that time. While at EMU, Booth also competed in gymnastics, a past skill that he said came in handy for the pole vault.
"Once I was pole vaulting, the sense of letting your body fly up into the air, and feel comfortable and in control...much of that comes from gymnastics and some former pole-vaulting memory," Booth said.
Booth, a 1966 EMU graduate, said he was prompted to take up the event again after a conversation with a former gymnastics teammate and good friend from his college days. The two were talking about fitness and Booth's potential for the bench press at the Michigan Senior Olympics. That got him thinking about trying the pole vault, which requires good upper-body strength, he said.
Motivated, he whittled a wooden pole out of a maple sapling. After a few weeks of practice, Booth ordered himself a fiberglass pole and created a landing pit by filling bags with leaves and covering it with a tarp.
Booth, from the old school when vaulters used "straight wooden poles," said he is still adjusting to the more flexible fiberglass model.
"I'm just now getting the feel for it. A lot of the timing for the stages is changed," he
explained. "When you take off, you need to wait a little while swinging up, while the pole is starting to bend. At the top, again, you need to pause a little while the pole is springing back."
He added, "It also was quite a 'surprise' to a 60-year-old body to hit the box from a full run. Not hard to learn, just a bit hard to do."
Techniques and age aches aside, Booth had qualified for nationals after setting a state age-group record (8 feet, 11 inches) in the pole vault at the Michigan Senior Olympics Aug. 7-8, 2004.
Booth again recently competed at this year's Michigan Senior Olympics in Kalamazoo in July. This time, Booth cleared 9 feet, 3 inches in the pole vault, breaking his own state age-group record and taking the gold medal. He also took the silver medal in the long jump (13 feet, 7 inches) a bronze in the 200 meters (32.2 seconds) and fourth place in the bench press.
A day after that event, he competed in two meets. At the Grand Haven Beach Vault, he cleared 9 feet, 6 inches, winning another gold medal and setting a meet record for his age group. He then drove to Grand Valley State University to compete in the USA Track and Field Regional Masters Championships. He again won his age group with a vault of 9 feet, 2 inches and also took the gold in the long jump with a personal best of 13 feet 10 1/2 inches.
After that flurry of competitions, Booth said, "With most of the masters track meets finished, I'll slow it down with some 5K road races and a mountain bike race in November."
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their careers and lives, and to be better citizens.
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.
Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.