Howard Booth, to the untrained eye, is just your average biology professor at Eastern Michigan University. But, unbeknownst to most, Booth is a world champion pole vaulter, besting the top contenders in his age bracket from all over the world.
Booth, who lives in Dexter Township and works out at the Chelsea Wellness Center, got into pole vaulting in his high school years.
“I loved track and field in junior high school and as a 9th grader, I wanted to be a sprinter but wasn’t quite fast enough to compete,” Booth said. “So I picked pole vaulting because most of the other athletes didn’t want to work hard enough to learn how to do it.”
Booth would become the top vaulter by his junior year of high school, and would set school and conference records and place fourth in the state in his senior year.
This journey would continue into college, where Booth would be recruited to pole vault for EMU, attaining third place in the conference tournament his junior year.
After graduating college, Booth would take some time away from pole vaulting to achieve graduate degrees and starting his teaching career. But recently, he went back to the world of pole vaulting, and returned home a world champion.
Booth traveled to Porto Algere, Brazil for the World Master Athletics outdoor world championships. These championships are held every two years for master track and field athletes ages 35 to 90 years old. Nearly 5,000 athletes were in attendance, from about 60 countries.
Booth recounted his time at the championships and his trials to win.
“The first ‘Oh’ moment was at 70 meters into the 100 meter sprint preliminaries on the first day of my competition when I re-injured a recovering left hamstring,” Booth said. “As I coasted to the finish line, my dominating thought was that I was all done and the whole trip was for nothing.”
“It was a cold day with a brisk swirling headwind and after an abbreviated warm up to protect my sore take-off leg, I started at a conservative height to be sure I didn’t (fail),” Booth said. “(I) passed the next bar, and then cleared the next one, which gave me the victory. I jumped one more bar at about 9’4” and landed with a cramp in my leg and had to stop.”
“My wife and family were hugely excited (and relieved) to not just earn a medal, but a gold! And to be back safe and mostly healthy from a most challenging adventure from the high level of competition to the distance and cost investment,” Booth said. “After a summer of traveling around the USA to three different national championships, the USATF Masters in Kansas, National Senior Games in Cleveland, and State Games of America Championship in Hershey, Penn.), a gold medal at the WMA world championship was the ultimate peak to a great season.
“The day after I got home, John Goodridge, EMU Men’s Track Coach, announced my success at the track team meeting, to an ovation from all the athletes and coaches.
Booth added some insight into the mental component of pole vaulting.
“For starters, it is completely illogical to grab a pole, run as fast as you can, stick the pole in a box and hang onto it just to see what will happen to you,” Booth said. “As you learn how to do this you are constantly on the mental edge of fear ands thrill, every jump. Each time you move up to a greater height, a longer or faster run, a higher pole grip, or a bigger pole, this mental physical challenge repeats.”
“It is a chess game blending blending your mental willingness and your physical capabilities to sprint down the runway, core strength to swing your body up to handstand on the top of the pole, and upper body strength to hang on and then push off at the final moment.”
The future holds more challenges for Booth, beginning as early as next month. “I’m resting/recovering for a couple weeks and have plans to get the indoor seasons started with a meet in Ft. Wayne on Dec 21 and then the state and regional championships leading to USATF National Indoor Masters Championships in Boston mid-March,” Booth said. “Down the road, I’ll compete in more national and world championships. Perth, Australia in 2015 would be the site to defend my outdoor world champion first place status.”
Booth added one thought, addressing a common question he receives. “I am often asked, ‘When are you going to stop pole vaulting?,” Booth said. “I’ll stop when I can’t do it anymore.”