Friday, December 20, 2013

Training, Sacrifice, and Merry Christmas.

Its that time of year when we all look forward to our Christmas breaks.  Students get a couple weeks off or nearly a month for you college students.  Teachers, like my wife, look forward to some much needed rest from the students.  For us athletes like myself who have been training for about 4 months straight I sure wish I had a few weeks off!  The truth is I'm beat up, physically my body just hurts, I have plantar fasciitis in my feet and limp around for an hour every morning until it loosens up.  My shoulder aches at night and keeps me from sleeping, my toes kill every workout from my bunion, my body just aches all over.  This is the hardest Ive ever worked for the longest prolonged period.

When most people think of the sacrifices I make they think of this pain, the physical pain of pushing my body to the limit every day to strive toward a goal that most can barely comprehend.  Its true, I sacrifice my body and push it through pain greater than most would ever endure voluntarily and for free!  I'm used to the pain, I know that the pain I endure is necessary, because the rewards in the future will be worth it.

There are other sacrifices that most don't think about.  My parents retired this year, finally!  My dad retired from being a full time minister and my mom as a kindergarten teacher at a private christian school.  They have lived in Freeport, Illinois where I grew up for the past 37 years and decided to move closer to family.  A month before they moved to northern Indiana about 5 miles from where I lived at the time, Amanda and I moved to Knoxville!  Rather than being 15 minutes away we are now 8 hours away.  I knew that If I was serious about continuing my vault career this move had to happen but talk about sacrifice!  I sacrificed some great time with my parents, helping them move and fix up their new place, which was greatly needed.  I will be able to spend a total of 2 days with them for Christmas this year before travelling to western New York to be with Amanda's family for 3 days before meeting the training group in Cleveland, Ohio for a week long training camp.

This sacrifice has been felt the hardest as the holiday approaches, not only the stress of travel but knowing the time spent together will be minimal, its times like these that make me want that break right about now.  But there is a light at the end of the tunnel!  Indoor season is less than a month away!  The thrill of competition reignites the fire under my butt to stay strong!  To keep at it, and remember whats its all for!  I have so much confidence that this year is my year!  The sacrifices are finally going to pay off!  But you know what, even if they don't,  I'm injured and don't get to see my work pay off fully.  I know that I have done what most wont just so I could have the chance to achieve what most cant and I guess that whats its all about, the journey.  I'm thanking God for the sacrifices this holiday season. The sacrifices are what set us apart, taking the high road, not taking the easy way out, its what makes you strong.  Be thankful for the sacrifices you've had to make this year, it makes the good times that much better.

I can only imagine its what Jesus was thinking when he left his place in heaven to come to earth as a baby born in a barn, all to save us!  Now that's sacrifice!

" Well you only need the light when its burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go
Only know you've been high when your feeling low
Only hate the road when your missing home"
-Passenger- " Let Her Go"

So here's to the heartache, the pain and struggle!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Always Pursuing -Mark-

Thursday, August 22, 2013

2013 Summed up?

Hmm, nearly 7 months since my last post?  If you remember around that time I announced I would be taking some time off social networks to attempt to focus better on my training.  I stopped posting updates here, Facebook, and Twitter, well my season is over and so here is a hopefully short summation of my year.

My last post was written in January, at the time I was right in the middle of overcoming a fear that I wouldnt be able to hold on to the pole.  I can tell you now that I still havent totally overcome this fear.  This sport is unlike anything ive ever experienced, absolutely every part of the event is tied into the previous action and the next action.  For me it started as soon as I picked up the pole, if the pole didnt feel perfect in my hand it affected my first step which then affected every step after that.  When your confident in your jump, you run differently, you attack the box knowing your safe, and you have total confidence in the pole your jumping on, this changes only when something goes wrong and you adjust to it.  Most of the year I have been expecting something to go wrong, such as not being able to hold on to the pole, getting stood up over the box, the pole being too big, or holding too high.  This affected every meet of my season.  I can tell you that I am so close to being at 100% but it has taken the entire year and Im not there yet!

I learned to accept very small improvements because I went from one practice where things were great, to the next practice and running through 70% of practice.  Now if I had a bunch of money I probably would have stayed home all year and worked through it, but I needed to travel to compete, with the hope that things would turn around and I would jump high enough to make some money or make a qualifying mark.  I am pretty sick of people talking about post collegiate vaulters like we arent working hard enough or focusing on jumping high.  Most of us are PROFESSIONAL pole vaulters meaning its how we make a living.  So either we stop being professional pole vaulters to make money and lose training time or we compete and attempt to improve throughout the year.  Do people think we are just drowning in money and are partying every day, taking our training and vault technique for granted?  If youve been where I am then feel free to criticize, otherwise PLEASE keep it as constructive as possible.  Thats the end of my rant...for now.

June 1st Amanda and I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee so that I could train full time with Olympic gold medalist Tim Mack.  I have been considering moving to train with a renowned coach for about 3 years now.  Every time I thought I had found the right fit something would fall through.  Now I know that was God closing the doors to lead me where He wanted me to go.  I completely believe that God has called me, made me to be a professional pole vaulter, and until He tells me to go in a different direction Im going to continue along this path.  The atmosphere here has been awesome!  Tim expects the very best from each of his athletes, the same way he did of himself.  Its been great to have a group to train with and a coach who is knowledgeable and that I can talk to when I have questions or concerns.  If you have the chance get down here for one of Tim's camps, you will get your moneys worth.

Its hard to look at this year as a good one, I jumped a season best of 18' twice, most of my meets were around 17'6".  My worst season since college, I placed 5th at indoor nationals and 8th at outdoor nationals.  Its tough to be positive, to think things will turn around and Ill be better than ever next year.
But I have to.  I have to get back to work, to focus and make every day count.  To be the best I can be, because if I dont, I might as well give up.  I moved my family 480 miles because I wont give up, I refuse.  Its not a part of me.  I take great pride in my work and things I have accomplished and to give anything but my best just isnt going to happen.

Ill be back here more often, updating periodically on my fall training.  On a side note please check out my new business venture at and get your very own personalized iphone 5 case.

You can also follow us on Twitter @Smokymtncaseco
and Instagram Smokymtncaseco

Always Pursuing -Mark-

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Summit Time!

Whew, in the months since my last post have been truthfully the hardest of my career.  Ive always known the impact the mind can have both positive and negative on anything you do but especially vaulting.  Starting mid-November I began having doubts about my grip on the pole, first it was the chalk or the tape just didnt feel right which forced me to jump on smaller and smaller poles.

 At the time I was still only jumping from 5 lefts so it wasnt like I was practicing from my full approach.  So I did what I thought i should and I fought it, I thought that if I tried harder or stopped being a baby I would snap out of it, but that just made it worse.  It got to the point where I would pick up the pole and not think I would be able to hold on...from 3 lefts.  Ive always been the fearless one that was on the big poles and this was so unlike me.  I had probably 4 practices where it would start good, I was starting small trying to gain confidence and I would get to 4 lefts and just be paralyzed with fear that I wasnt going to be able to hold on to the pole.

  Most of those times I would leave practice in tears, not knowing how i was going to be able to get over it or if i would ever be able to pole vault from a long run again.  I have never really put a date to when I will finish my professional vault career but I know Im not ready to be done yet, and the possibility that which has defined me for the past 15 years could be taken away from me was very hard.  I tried to get my mind off it, I was able to go to California and help coach a camp with my buddy Paul Litchfield which was a great time but when I came back the problem was still there.  Shortly after that it was time for the holidays and even with all the hustle and bustle pole vault was still on my mind.

 Out of necessity I began using sticky spray on my hands rather than chalk, and little by little I am learning to use it.  Im not pushing it, Im only back to 6 lefts right now but Im taking off and ive jumped in 2 meets.  Right now Im not worrying myself with results but rather progress is my goal.  Im gaining confidence with every jump and enjoying every time I leave the ground and fly through the air. I hope I never take for granted again the awesome ability I have been given.

Heading to the Reno Pole Vault Summit tomorrow with Amanda, really excited she is able to join me this year.  Love the chance to get together with old friends and make tons of new ones.  Make sure you come say hi and feel free to ask any questions you may have.

I think the reason it took me so long to write about this issue is that Ive been embarrassed.  Ive never heard of anyone having this problem and I really thought that I could just snap out of it, but the reason I write this blog is so that you know the problems we sometimes go through.   If you know that I Mark Hollis 2x National champ couldnt even leave the ground because I didnt think i could hold on to the pole, maybe it will help you to face your demons head on and overcome them.  I plan on using this to be stronger and more confident than I ever have before.

Always Pursuing -Mark-