TERRE HAUTE —
I’ve tried a few unique athletic competitions over the years, but I can’t begin to imagine how it feels to do what Indiana State senior Kylie Hutson does.
“It really takes a special person to do pole-vaulting,” emphasized Mike Dason, Terre Haute North High School’s girls track and field coach. “You need to have a serious lack of fear. Kylie was never afraid of it … She is very mentally tough. She always was.”
Think about the risks for a few seconds.
Visualize sprinting down a runway approximately 102 feet while carrying a 141⁄2-foot-long, 7- or 8-pound flexible pole on your approach, then planting the pole, launching yourself feet-first into the air — maybe 15 feet high if you’re one of the top female collegians in the country — and hoping you land safely in the padded pit on the other side of the horizontal bar that you hopefully cleared.
Hutson became familiar with this routine as a sophomore at North roughly six years ago when Dason suggested the event to her.
“I got used to it,” Hutson recalled. “It turned into a lot of fun. I never really got tired of it.”
She’s been hooked ever since, winning two NCAA indoor championships and one NCAA outdoor championship as a member of the Sycamores.
Today at Heyward Field in Eugene, Ore., Hutson will try to earn her fourth NCAA title in the women’s pole vault. Expecting Arkansas’ Katie Stripling and Oregon’s Melissa Gergel (home-field advantage?) to give her a run for her money, Hutson and the rest of the field will get started at about 7 p.m. EDT.
Hutson’s best vault this outdoor season was 14 feet, 91⁄2 inches. But her most vivid memory was the YouTubed fall she took May 7 in the Billy Hayes Invitational at Bloomington after her carbon-fiber pole snapped as she approached the bar on her final attempt at 15-11⁄2.
Fortunately, Hutson landed in the pit. But that didn’t prevent her from suffering a laceration to her left hand.
“When it broke [for the second time in that meet], my skin ripped open from the force and vibration of the pole breaking,” she explained a few days later. “To me, it sounded like a gunshot going off. I remember looking down at my hand and seeing blood just gushing out… It was just an awful feeling, knowing my college career might be over.”
Examinations revealed there was no nerve or tendon damage and no need for surgery, so Hutson’s college career was not over after all. She did miss defending her title in the Missouri Valley Conference outdoor championships last month at Illinois State, but she returned to action in the NCAA preliminary round in late May to easily clear 13-11⁄2 and qualify for the national championships again.
“It healed great,” Hutson told me Thursday. “I haven’t thought much about it. It’s been a mental game and I’m trying to put the injury out of my mind.”
Of course, I had to call her cell phone and ask about it. Great timing, David.
Anyway, Hutson said she’s using a new, reinforced Carbon Weave pole, the same brand she used previously. On Tuesday in Eugene, she practiced vaulting without a glove on her injured hand for the first time since the May 7 accident.
“That was a pretty big step for me,” she admitted. “My hand doesn’t really hurt at all.”
And if Hutson wins again today, that would be the preferred ending to her ISU career.
“That would definitely cap off an amazing college career,” she said. “I won’t be happy with anything less.”
• You go, girl — Speaking of talented female athletes, Rachael Pruett of Linton qualified for a pro golf tournament Monday, winning a three-way playoff with a birdie on the first hole.
The tournament is the Teva Championship at Mason, Ohio. Her father Chris Pruett said in an e-mail that it’s right across the interstate from Kings Island.
The tournament will take place today, Saturday and Sunday.
It’s part of the Duramed Futures Tour, which is the LPGA developmental tour. Basically, it’s the same as the Nationwide Tour for the PGA.
Rachael Pruett is paired with the No. 2 player on the money list today. There are 150 players in the event and Pruett is the only amateur.
David Hughes can be reached by phone after 4 p.m. at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.