Jeremiah Burish really put the “river” in River Vault this year, moving the annual event onto a barge — and, he says, into track and field history.
Burish, a member of the La Crosse Track Club, has organized River Vault since he was a student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse six years ago. Usually, Riverfest’s pole-vaulting competition takes place on the street that goes through Riverside Park — in front of the Mississippi River, not on it.
“This is the first time in the world pole-vaulting has ever been on a barge,” Burish said.
Burish had been hoping to get the event onto the river since last year, but it wasn’t until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that he knew for sure he’d get the barge he needed.
“I had to virtually redo the whole event in three days,” Burish said.
The move puts the spotlight on the sport Burish has been passionate about since high school.
“It’s one of the best events in track and field, and it’s so much fun,” Burish said.
The change drew a crowd and gave it more room.
“This is something so unique that it brought out more people,” Burish said.
The event drew 60 competitors of all ages and divisions, including Olympic hopefuls.
“Some of the best vaulters are here competing for all these people, and it puts on just an amazing show for these people,” Burish said.
Vaulter Garrett Carlson of West Salem was pumped up to participate, despite ending up second in his division.
“This is just a really unique event. It’s fantastic,” Carlson said.
Carlson, a pole-vaulter at UW-L who has coached at West Salem High School, is a regular at River Vault.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Carlson said.
He likes the chance to get some friendly competition in against people he might not otherwise see, including one of his former team members from West Salem, Mac Anderson.
Carlson vaulted 13 feet before falling to Anderson, who vaulted 13 feet, 6 inches.
“The kid who just beat me, I coached him,” Carlson said with a big smile.
Moving the competition to the river proved to be pretty popular with both the fans and people walking by.
“We’ve got a bigger crowd than ever,” Carlson said.
The unique location, with no trees to block the breeze, did bring some challenges for the athletes.
“It’s a little windier than normal. Wind is a big factor in this event,” Carlson said.
The barge also limited the space available.
“The barge, as awesome as it is, is kind of short,” Burish said.
Organizers added a second, smaller barge and some scaffolding to give the athletes more space during their run-up.
“Especially the elite athletes, they need that extra space to get a running start,” Burish said.
The rigged up track shook a little, which made it difficult for athletes, but Carlson hopes they keep it up.
“They’ll work the kinks out over time,” Carlson said.
“It’s one of the best events in track and field, and it’s so much fun.” Jeremiah Burish, event organizer