Pole Vaulting Archives: 2002 – Pole-Vaulting Proves Lethal to Some Young Athletes

April 24, 2002 — Pole-vaulter Kevin Dare, a Penn State sophomore, was preparing for his event at February’s Big Ten Conference indoor championships in Minneapolis, when his dad walked up to wish him luck. “Dad, this is my day,” Ed Dare remembers his son saying.

As Kevin planted his pole and surged toward a bar placed at 15 feet, 7 inches, his vault looked great, Ed says. But at the top of the jump, Kevin’s momentum changed, and instead of moving toward the foam-padded landing pit, his head hit the metal box where he had planted his pole. Later that day, 19-year-old Kevin Dare died of massive head injuries.

Since then, Ed Dare says, he’s been through “absolute living hell.” And he’s also made some startling discoveries about the high rates of death and injury associated with pole-vaulting. NPR’s Tom Goldman talked with Ed Dare — on what would have been Kevin’s 20th birthday — about the dangers of the sport Dare and his son grew to love. For All Things Considered, Goldman reports.

After Kevin’s death, Ed Dare took to scouring the Internet from his Pennsylvania home, talking to and trading e-mails with coaches and athletes. Dare discovered that in U.S. high schools — where an estimated 25,000 vaulters compete — pole-vaulting has higher rates of death and catastrophic injury than any other sport, including football. In just one 49-day period this year, Dare says, “four young athletes had major, severe head injury, of which three have died… This sport needs to be reformed and it needs to be reformed now. Young athletes are dying.”

Kevin Dare was a junior national champion in his sport, and represented the United States in international pole-vault competitions. Experience and ability weren’t enough to keep him alive; but what might have, says his dad, was a protective helmet. Kevin didn’t wear one, nor do many young pole-vaulters — and Ed Dare says that’s the first thing that should change. “These athletes who are getting head injuries, it’s all been as a result of striking their head on a hard surface. No one’s going to sit here and tell me that a helmet would not have protected those athletes.”

Currently, says Goldman, “There are no helmets specifically certified for pole-vault use. Vaulters who do cover their heads use helmets that are also used by skateboarders or in-line skaters.” Legislation pending in New York would mandate that young pole-vaulters use helmets — but Nina Van Erk, who heads the state’s Public High School Athletic Association, says she’d oppose the mandate until there’s a helmet certified specifically for this sport. “I want to make sure that whatever we do, we’ll reduce the risk of injuries for our student athletes,” she says. “I don’t want just the perception of reducing the risk of injury. And until we get standards for helmets for pole-vaulting, I can’t be assured of that.”

Today in the United States, laws require helmets for student vaulters in only two states: North Dakota and Minnesota (which adopted its law about two weeks after Kevin Dare died in Minneapolis). The National High School Federation is scheduled to meet to discuss pole-vaulting safety — but helmet use currently is not on the agenda, and the meeting’s not until June.

That’s too long to wait, says Ed Dare. In the meantime, he’ll meet with U.S. track and field officials to press for safety reforms. And he’ll continue his campaign, Dare vows, for “however long it takes to make it a safe sport.”


Kevin Dare
Kevin Dare


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