For Garrett King, there are a few seconds in mid-air where everything morphs into slow motion and silence. Any sense of control is gone until he feels the crash mat engulf him.
It doesn’t happen often, but King lives for those few seconds. “It is the purest form of adrenaline,” he said. “It is pure joy. It is happiness. It’s a feeling unlike any other.”
King is a junior pole vaulter on the UMass Lowell track and field team at the peak of his career and feeling very good about himself. He should.
Two weeks ago at the Boston University Terrier Invitational, he broke UMass Lowell’s 10-year-old school record. Except he didn’t just break the record. He toppled it. He cleared 15 feet 5.0 inches — his best indoor height by far — to surpass the previous mark of 14 feet 9.0 inches set in 2004.
“It was a benchmark for me,” said King, a 2011 graduate of Amesbury High School. “I figured this is what I needed to do if I was going to take this seriously. Now that I have it, I want to push it higher. I want to clear 17 feet.”
Pole vaulters are a rare breed, the loneliest athletes on a team. There just aren’t many of them out there. “I’d say only about 30 percent of the leagues and conferences in Massachusetts compete in the pole vault,” said UMass Lowell assistant coach Patrick Swett, who oversees the program’s jumpers, including King.
Sprinters, jumpers, hurdlers and throwers come in bunches. Pole vaulters require all those things and a little more: speed for the approach; focus to place the pole; strength to lift oneself over the bar; the wherewithal to clear the bar and release the pole — simultaneously — and fall properly.
It’s extremely rare that all those things come together. But when they do, well, King said it best.