Raising the Bar

04/28/2011 22:02

Ever since Dan West was a fifth grader at Powers Elementary School, he loved pole vaulting.

It was in that Coos County town that he first discovered a sport in a back alley where neighborhood kids had constructed a makeshift pit made of sawdust.

While the sport looked awkward, it was very intriguing for LCC’s pole vault coach Dan West. The sport made quite an impression on him at a young age.

“I fell in love right off the bat,” West said.

He immediately wanted to try vaulting for his school, but there was one hurdle: students in Powers weren’t allowed to vault until sixth grade.

So West pestered his coach. Eventually, he was able to strike a deal.

“If you can make six feet, we’ll take you to a meet,” he remembers the coach telling him.

After weeks of practice and determination, West was able to clear the six-foot mark. He won the opportunity to travel with the team.

Years went by and West continued his push to make pole-vaulting a career, but he admits that he wasn’t necessarily the best due to circumstances.

“I actually pole vaulted quite poorly in high school and college. I had no coach and no facilities,” he said, “I could have been a contender — I could have vaulted higher, but I just didn’t know what to do.”

He went on to try different events as a track and field athlete, such as the hurdles, the 4×4 relay and the 4×1 relay. But West always knew pole vaulting was his true calling.

He briefly considered a career in biology when he moved to Wyoming in 1978 but he returned to coaching in Montana where he did nine decathlons on the side.

West has coached at many different levels. He’s even worked with Britain’s top pole-vaulter in the 1991 World Championships and again in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

“Those kinds of experiences, being at that sort of level, gave me a good perspective that helps me coach the athletes,” he said. “I really paid attention and put my ego aside.”

After 30 years of coaching, West has made a significant name for himself across the Pacific Northwest.

He coached at the University of Oregon for six years in the ‘90s but decided that being a volunteer and a part-time coach didn’t fit with his lifestyle.

A major factor that led to the decision was a NCAA rule change, which designated West as an indoor volunteer, a position that would not allow him to travel with the team for outdoor meets.

Without being able to coach at outdoor meets, West became frustrated and decided he would take a break from coaching again.

When Grady O’Connor, the Titans’ head track and field coach, found out West was available he asked West to coach for the college.

West saw a new opportunity for his own career, and a way to get back into coaching, a pastime he had grown so fond.

O’Connor knew West had a reputation for training great athletes. The head coach was delighted when West joined his staff and has been pleased with the caliber of athletes the track program has produced over the last 10 years.

“He continues to produce some of the best performances in the Northwest,” O’Connor said. “He just oozes passion and knowledge of the event.”

West’s level of knowledge is unmatched.  The pole vault is a very technical event in which each part needs to be broken up and targeted into different skills.

“The secret is: You’ve got to learn the basics,” West said.

And the results are clear. In the last few weeks Lindsay Beard set a school record with a vault of 11 ft. 11 ¾ inches.

“He really cares about all the athletes,” Beard said, “He’s not in it for himself, and he’s in it for us, which you don’t find in a lot of coaches.”

One of the most commendable traits of West’s program is his ability to coach every skill level successfully from beginner to international caliber athletes.

“If the kid has the desire and the open mind to do the work, then they have an opportunity to do that here,” West said.

Since West’s tenure, pole vault has consistently been the highest scoring individual event. When the title of meet champion is on the line and it comes down to a few points, these kinds of results really matter.

“We’re Pole Vault Central, and it’s been that way for a long time. I’m spoiled to have him,” O’Connor said. “I don’t have to recruit anyone to the program because we have kids knocking on our door wanting to jump for him.”