I don’t think it’s unfair to say that a lot of people only remember the sport of pole vaulting exists once every four years, at the Olympic Games.
How many people have had the chance to try pole vaulting? There can’t be too many successful vaulters around, but there can’t be many that have tried this sport.
Therefore, my imagination immediately runs wild when the notice from Horsham District Council to say they are running pole vaulting sessions for 13-21 year olds over the summer lands on my desk.
This was it – my ticket to sporting stardom had arrived. With all respect to pole vaulting, naturally I thought I was about to enter an untapped sporting goldmine.
There is one hurdle – I have never had much luck with sport. My enthusiasm to compete has always outweighed my talent. Far outweighed, if we’re being honest.
I’m undeterred, though, and start to plan my trip to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics in 2016. It’s a hassle that I have to fly from Heathrow as Gatwick doesn’t go there, but I won’t mind when I’m sunning myself on a Rio beach.
I’m not expecting to reach the dominance of world record holder Sergey Bubka, who has cleared a bar at 6.14m, after an hour and a half at Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre, but I’m up for having a go.
I meet my fellow athletes at the athletics track. There are four of them and the oldest is 14 – the pressure is immediately on me to perform.
I also meet the coach. Dave Ingram, 33, has been competing in the sport for 22 years and has a personal best of 4.6m. A worthy teacher.
Dave hands me a pole, and I wonder aloud how long it is.
“This one is twelve feet,” he casually remarks. “Pretty tiny.”
We begin with a series of drills that all have one thing in common – they are far more difficult than they should be.
Seemingly simple tasks, like making sure my run-up is the correct number of steps, require much more concentration when you’re carrying a twelve-foot pole at the time.
As we begin some jumping exercises, Dave is anxious that my slightly reckless style could result in his decapitation. I forget how many times he asks me to be a bit more careful.
After countless run-ups, pole plants and leaps, we get to the part of the session I had been looking forward to. A six-step run-up, planting the pole in the ground, and jumping through the air. We aren’t clearing a bar – but otherwise this is pole vaulting.
Now’s my chance to really shine.
But, of course, it’s not easy.
I think I get it right once. A driving, confident run-up. The pole is planted in the right place. My jump feels powerful.
It feels like I hang in the air for far longer than it is, at a far greater height. The adrenaline rush is intense, and eventually I gracefully land on my backside on the comfortable bed.
I turn around expecting my coach to be giving me a standing ovation, perhaps wiping a tear from his eye. Alas, with my head in the clouds, Dave brings me back down to Earth.
“Funny how puberty works, isn’t it?” he quips.
I remember that my fellow vaulters are half my height and almost half my age, and before I know it my brief moment of success is behind me.
The rest of the session puts more emphasis on technique. I learn that my grip is not good. Co-ordination could be better. Concentration…you get the gist.
Dave doesn’t seem too bothered by my lack of natural talent, though, and insists he could get me to jump two metres with just a couple more training sessions.
“Pole vaulting is very good fun from whatever level you are starting at, and also very good to watch,” he says.
“It keeps you fit and is very varied in training – you do a bit of gymnastics, a bit of strength work and a bit of speed work.”
The sessions run every Friday evening from 5.30pm to 7pm until September 27, costing £3 each time.
The summer holidays can sometimes drag on, and the council have provided a cheap, fun option for sporty teens.
Sadly, I won’t become a pole vault superstar any time soon though. I’d better cancel that ticket to Rio, unless, anyone for fencing?