Tommy Skipper is training again.
After not competing for nearly three years, the five-time NCAA pole vault champion for the University of Oregon is slowly working his way back into shape.
Encouraged by family and friends, and surrounded by a volunteer medical support team, Skipper wants to jump at the Oregon Twilight Meet at Hayward Field on Saturday.
It would be his first meet since no-heighting at the 2009 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene.
There’s just one problem.
The 27-year-old Skipper has been sidelined for the past three weeks with a back problem, so he and his coach, former UO assistant Mark Vanderville, have scheduled a key practice session on Wednesday to determine if he’s physically able to take the next step.
There’s no question about his mental state of readiness.
“No matter how well I do, I need to give it one more shot,” said Skipper, the UO record-holder at 19 feet, 1/4 inch. “This is just the first step.”
The Twilight Meet would be an ideal opening meet for Skipper because it involves no travel expense.
Without a professional contract or shoe sponsorship, he works part time as a personal trainer for the Chris Mikilas Boot Camp in the morning, and volunteers as a track and field coach at North Eugene High School in the afternoon.
His decision to try vaulting again stems from a variety of sources, but without a coach, there would be no comeback attempt.
“Mark never gave up on me,” Skipper said. “In times of struggle and doubt, he was always there. If not for him, I would not be getting back into it.”
There were other influences as well.
As a volunteer coach himself, Skipper was feeding off the energy and excitement of the North Eugene kids.
His former UO teammate, Jon Derby, who is also entered in the Twilight Meet, has offered consistent encouragement and a reliable training partner.
Finally, after a recent trip to visit his close friend, Brad Walker, the American record-holder in the pole vault, Skipper knew he couldn’t stay away, especially in an Olympic year.
“That lit a fuse under me,” he said.
If he’s able to go on Saturday, or at a different meet sometime in the near future, Skipper’s immediate goal is a qualifying mark for the U.S. Olympic Trials. The “B” standard is 18-1/4, and the automatic “A” standard is 18-8 1/4.
If he can clear that obstacle, the next step is the automatic “A” qualifier for the 2012 London Olympics of 18-9 1/4.
But Skipper and his coach don’t want to get ahead of themselves.
“We’re not trying to rush things,” Vanderville said. “We want to see where he’s at … it’s all about getting on poles he hasn’t been on in nearly three years.”
Skipper credits Dr. Gregory Phillips at the Slocum Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine for resolving his back issues.
He also said his medical support team of massage therapist Matt Lonergan, chiropractor John Legat, and physical therapist Mark Ouellette, has been a “godsend.”
“All of these people are behind me,” he said. ”And they’re doing it out of the goodness of their heart. It’s been amazing.”
Only time will tell if Skipper can recapture his past glory, but he hopes that effort starts Saturday at Hayward Field, the site of so many of his past successes and failures.
“I’ve had my best days and my worst days at Hayward,” he said. “I would like to finish out on my own terms, feeling positive about the pole vault, and track and field in general. Taking time off has given me a new perspective and the desire to pole vault again.”
By: CURTIS ANDERSON