BELTON — Don Isett first pole vaulted in his front yard.
“We had a TV antenna that’d come off our house, and I had a friend who’s a pole vaulter who says, ‘Hey, we can pole vault that.’ We were just in the front yard and we’d run with that pole, jam it in the ground and throw ourselves over a fishing pole.”
From that point on, Isett was hooked — the feeling of planting the pole, letting it bend, getting his legs up and turning before falling into the pit.
On Saturday, Isett was one of many vaulting celebrites at the Expo Explosion at the Bell County Expo Center.
Isett, 74, just happened to be the oldest competitor.
But in a field that included high school club teams, college athletes and professionals, Isett fit right in, and not because he is the unofficial world record holder for his age group.
Like everyone else in attendance Saturday, Isett shares a passion for the sport he fell in love with in his front yard.
And that is the primary reason the Expo Explosion exists.
“We put this event on to accommodate the athletes, the friends and families that love this sport,” host Jack Chapman said. “That’s why we do it.”
Chapman has coached pole vaulting for 30 years and has hosted the Explosion each of its five years of existence.
The Explosion featured 189 entries Saturday, up 40 from last year, and anticipates more growth in the future.
Each age and skill level was represented, from the 74-year-old Isett to Gatesville senior Nicholas Meaders, who was competing with his club team Zero Gravity.
Meaders competes for the Hornets — he placed second in District 8-3A last year — but also competes with his club team, Zero Gravity, to get even better in the offseason.
“Somebody beat me and they were in a club,” he said of his start, “so I figured I’d join one.”
Chapman said the Explosion is the first meet of the indoor season for most athletes, and competition was high with competitors ranging from professionals like Jack Whitt, the outdoor NCAA champion in 2012, to high school standouts like Desiree Freier, a senior at Justin Northwest who set a state record in 2013 while winning the 5A state title.
Each had high praise for the event, particularly Frier and Meaders, who have been attending for the past four years.
But for Isett, the event isn’t just about the competition but also about bonding with ambassadors of the sport like Chapman and Frier’s stepfather, George Rodriguez, also in attendance Saturday.
“We all see each other five, six, seven times a year, all go to the same meets,” Isett said. “We know each others’ wives, we go out to eat together in different cities.”
So, while each acknowledged a love for vaulting like the one Isett began years ago, part of what makes the sport is the people who gathered in Belton for the fifth time in as many years to compete and bond again.
“That’s what makes this sport: the bonding, the camaraderie, the support for each other even though he’s your competitor,” Chapman said. “Everybody’s here for everybody.”
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