College Pole Vaulter Killed When He Misses Pad

Of all the sports I least identify with, pole vault has to be at the top of the list. I’ve always considered it the most unlikely and baffling of activities, as if someone asked Dr. Seuss to invent a new track event. I’m not sure how one decides to become a pole vaulter, and after this story, I’m even less likely to find out.

A pole vaulter for UC San Diego, 19-year-old Leon Roach, died after missing the landing pad on a practice pole vault attempt at the university’s La Jolla campus on Saturday.

Roach was unresponsive after missing the pad and landing on the concrete, head first.

He was pronounced brain dead at a hospital. An autopsy is pending.
A memorial service will be held this week in Huntington Beach, where Roach graduated from Marina High School.

It may surprise you to know that, according to one study, the pole vault is the deadliest sport in America.

A study published in the January 2001 edition of the American Journal of Sports Medicine reviewed 32 catastrophic pole-vaulting injuries, 16 of which resulted in death. The injuries, reported to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research between 1982 and 1998, showed an average of one death per year in the event. With about 25,000 participants, it ranked as the highest death rate per participant of any sport.

Should helmets become mandatory? Probably not a practical idea, according to this story from the TRI-CITY HERALD:

A company called POLEVAULTHELMET.COM advertises a helmet called the KDMax designed specifically for vaulters.

However, their information is copyrighted from 2004. I found this 2006 article talking about pole vault safety, and how at that point, there were no helmets that were proven to protect a vaulter in a severe fall (say, anything above 7 or 8 feet).

National pole vault safety director Jan Johnson was quoted in the article as saying: “For a vaulter to have total protection, he would need a helmet 3 feet thick. Nobody wants a heavy helmet.”

Would anyone really care if this event were banished for safety reasons? I mean, since it’s more dangerous, evidently, than boxing?