Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Most Fun Event in Track

Dr. David Lindenberg says that he competes in "the most fun event in track," the pole vault.  The five-time USA Masters Champion  likes it so much he coaches younger athletes and expects to continue competing "as long as my body allows me."

Last  weekend he vaulted  4.45m/14'7.2" to win the USA Masters indoor M35 title in Boston. Ultimately he'd like to get back to vaulting in "the 16' range(his personal best being 16' 4")," says Lindenberg.  That's in addition to his "day job," a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation residency at the University of Minnesota, practicing "pain medicine," he says.  In his free time he coaches vaulters at Fuzion Athletics.  He got hooked on vaulting in high school where he first played baseball and soccer before he began "flying through the air" on a pole.

The combination of skills, from speed along the runway to the technique and gymnastics of planting the pole and riding it to clear the bar and jackknife over it is his challenge.  He had an instant attraction to the event, but not instant success.  In fact it took him three years to get onto his college track team in the vault.  There he demonstrated other skills, such as patience, self motivation,  and perseverance.  He kept vaulting in his spare time during medical school where the exercise helped maintain his fitness and was a form of pressure relief from the intense training to be a doctor.

Today vaulting remains a passion, "a great way to stay in shape and have fun," he says.  I'm  "constantly trying to achieve my own personal goals," he adds. Lindenberg views his relationship with other Masters vaulters as "more like friends" than competition, partners in expanding their individual talents.  As he's aged, he says he's "learned the importance of rest days."  In his youth he adds, "I tried to do too much, too fast," and injuries hampered his progress.  He continued to improve after college, and he knows that to get back to those heights he has to be "able to be smarter" in his training.

His medical studies have given him a "a better, a deeper understanding" of his body.  He uses that to attempt to go higher, and tries to pass along what he's learned to the young vaulters he coaches.  He doesn't coach many or often because of his schedule, about two sessions a week, and he's selective in who he chooses, wanting only those who are "very motivated, committed" to improve.  Remembering how his teammates helped him develop in college this is his time to "pay it forward," to give back to a sport that has given much to him.

Lindenberg doesn't just help athletes, however, he is currently working with engineers and other medical personnel at the Veterans Hospital in Minneapolis  in a project to redesign wheelchairs to be more ergonomically designed to minimize arm stress.  They are experimenting with adjustable push rims that would not only ease the stress when the person in the chair in attempting to move it, but also when that person has to get in and out of the chair, and are doing pilot testing on the prototype they've created.

As a pole vaulter, Lindenberg knows the value of having the proper equipment.  Of all the disciplines within track and field, his is the most dependent on his equipment.  Length of the pole, stiffness are key factors in being able to clear a desired height.  The environment is also a factor.  Lindenberg likes to train indoors because of its consistent conditions, primarily no wind.  But also knows that outdoors a tailwind can be your friend by allowing you to use a longer, stiffer pole to go for a bigger jump, as the speed you have down the runway can increase the force you exert on the pole, and using a stiffer pole gives the vaulter a bigger thrust upward as it recoils as the vaulter leaves the ground and rides the pole upward.

When done properly it allows the vaulter to ride this fiberglass and/or carbon fiber stick to the sky in a ballet of body gyrations that seemingly happen in fractions of a second.  There is nothing else quite like it in sports.  Therein lies the fun, the thrill of vaulting, says Lindenberg.  A thrill that he wants to enjoy for as long as he can.

You can watch videos of Lindenberg and the other Fuzion vaulters HERE.

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