Jenn Suhr at the Seaside Heights Beach Vault, photos by Bruce [email protected]

So, Elliott Denman wanted to write about this little Beach pole vault in New Jersey. Since it was Elliott, we said, "Sure".

Here he goes! 


 SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NEW JERSEY -  Mike Pascuzzo's battle with the laws of
gravity is a lifelong mission.

  He fought it as a University of Maryland athlete who was a nine-time All-America selection.
He fought it as a post-collegian who eventually cleared 7 feet, 5 1/4 inches (2.27 meters) and high jumped his way into three editions of the USA Olympic Trials.  He fought it as a member of four separate USA national teams sent on global competitive journeys.

    And for much of the past two decades he's built a reputation as one of the nation's finest promoters of gravity-challenging events and as coach to an array of aspiring athletes taking on that same battle.

    All these athletes - whatever their age bracket, and they range from little kids to
grizzled veterans - are, of course, up-and-coming.

Jenn Suhr at the Seaside Heights Beach Vault, photos by Bruce [email protected]

    A few hundred convened on the sands of Seaside Heights this weekend for the
seventh annual Mike Pascuzzo-masterminded Jersey Jumps Beach Pole Vault, one more
innovative event created under the umbrella of the Pascuzzo's business enterprise
appropriately titled Vertical Adventures Track and Field.

   Basking in the world-class Jersey Shore beach weather, the Jersey Jump pole-sters
put on a virtually non-stop, free-admission vault extravaganza that featured
action on three parallel-placed runways and pits plunked down on the sands.

   The best of them opened the show.

    Champions crowned on the opening Friday night were 16-time USA
champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jenn Suhr in the women's elite
category;  former North Carolina and Indiana collegiate star Scott Houston
in the men's elite division, and former Rider University athlete and current
Pingry  School (N.J.) coach Mark  Cortazzo in the men's Masters event.

     Suhr cleared a meet-record 15 feet, one inch (4.60 meters)  as one more warmup for the upcoming World Championships in Beijing.   Houston rose 17-0 3/4 (5.20) as a stepping stone to his expected journey to the 2016 Olympic Trials.   Cortazzo went 13-1 (3.99) to prove there continues to be plenty of life in a 46-year-old vaulter's bones and as further demonstration to his  school and club athletes that here's a man who knows what he's doing.

Jenn Suhr at the Seaside Heights Beach Vault, photos by Bruce [email protected]

   The high schoolers and collegians then took over the spotlight as the
Jersey Jumps events rolled on through Saturday and Sunday.

   Handling the play-by-play for all this was none other than Dwight Stones,
the two-time Olympic medalist, three-time Olympian and world record-setter, 19-time national champion, famed broadcaster and long-time Pascuzzo HJ pal.

  Taking it all in from their boardwalk vantage points were throngs of beach-goers,
some of them genuine track fans, others the idly curious.

     Even with a modest prize purse - he collected $500 - Houston said "We just do this for the fun of it and the love of the sport."

   Houston is a former Big 10 champion who owns a career-best of 18-5 (5.62), a mark set at the Vault In The Ville event on Fourth Street in downtown Louisville in early June.

  "We're not NBA stars, we're not LeBron James, or NFL quarterbacks, we don't make a lot of money at this thing," he said.

   "Of course, we all want the pole vault to be a mainstay of track and field; we've got to have the Olympics, we've got to have the World Championships going on, but if we could have more events like this (beyond the arenas) it would be tremendous.

   "Anything like this is good, anything that brings the sport to the people. Some of the people (lining the boardwalk) might never attend a real track meet, they might never see world-class pole vaulting.  But this gives them that chance.  Who knows? Maybe some of them will become real track fans."

   After starring at North Carolina, Houston kept right on improving in his graduate-year season as an Indiana Hoosier. And now he's looking to continue going up-up and up."

  Tricky winds helped limit his heights here, but he remains all-optimism.

Jenn Suhr at the Seaside Heights Beach Vault, photos by Bruce [email protected]

  "It's going to take a lot of work, a lot of injury-free training, and probably a 5.70 clearance
(18-8 1/4) on first attempt for me to make the Olympic team," he said."But it's definitely possible.  I know I can do it."

    Sponsorships are increasingly tough to come by in today's track and field world.
Houston counts himself lucky to get some support from the innovative Nick
Symmonds-backed Run Gum team.

  "Right now, we're healthy, that's good, and that's the main thing," said Rick Suhr, Jenn's husband and coach.  Team Suhr came to the 2014 Jersey Jumps event, only to see her sit out the competition with an injury.   So this was some recompense for the fans who'd missed her in action  a year ago.

   The previous week's Pan American Games in Toronto did not go Jenn's way - she settled for the bronze medal at that same 15-1 back of Cuba's Yarisley Silva (15-11 / 4.95) and
Brazil's Fabiana Maurer (15-9 / 4.80) in a meet where nothing she did seemed to click.

  "We were off and we were off by a lot," said Rick.  "Warming up, Jenn said "I don't think we can clear a bar."  But then she cleared two bars to take third and recoup confidence.

   Seaside's shifting breezes may have taken some of the steam out of the atmospherics
but didn't help vault conditions.  "It kind of messed us up," he said.

   But the goal was achieved - the win earned her a $1000 check and helped
iron out some technical glitches.

    "Meet like this definitely help," he said. "There's no forgiveness when we get to the big ones."

    A small-scale meet in Rochester, N..Y. is likely to be her final warmup before Beijing, then it's off to a training camp in Japan and across to China.

   "You've seen the injury-Jenn and  the healthy Jenn jumping this year," she said. "Sometimes I've jumped as if I was injured (an aching Achilles tendon) and sometimes I've jumped when I was healthy.

  "But that's behind me now: I'm strong now, just have to get my timing back and
build on that.

Jenn Suhr at the Seaside Heights Beach Vault, photos by Bruce [email protected]

 "The Worlds is going to have a big field with a lot of girls who can really jump high. 
 "So that's one more reason I wanted to enjoy this meet - I loved it; the crowd was really getting into it - before things get really serious." 

 Collegians Sandi Morris and Demi Payne  will be her USA teammates in China.  
  "It's great to see young vaulters like them coming up," said Suhr, now 33.

  Her 15-9 3/4 (4.82) at Nationals is her 2015 best and her goal will continue to be an attack on the world record, Russian rival Yelena Isinbayeva's 16-7 1/4 (5.06) at Zurich in 2009.

  "One step at a time," she reminds.  "First, I've got to get back over 16.  Then we just take it from there.

  "I've got to be healthy and be in the right position. A lot of things have to line up."
 She's a confirmed Jersey Jumps fan.  "Things like this are kind of like the rodeo   People
need to understand it, then they'll really get into it."

  Masters champion Cortazzo, 46,  doubles as a financial adviser/investment manager in real life.

  "I've been in vaulting 30 years now," said Cortazzo. "But that includes the 20 years
I took off in between."

   Coaching his daughter Sophia at Pingry School served as the catalyst for his own return to action, and he's already a Masters indoor national champion. 

   "I owe a lot to pole vaulting," he said. "It's the reason I was able to go to college (on scholarship at Rider); I'm not sureif I'd have been able to afford school otherwise.

  "This can be a tough sport.

   "I've needed two surgeries (shoulder and knee), a lot lot of duct tape, and a lot
 of Neoprene and Advil to stay in it.

   "I was trying to jump higher than my body was ready for .

  "It wasn't like pickup basketball.  There weren't a lot of meets I could go to and just fool around.  

   "So I wound up staying away.

   "This is my sixth year back; my goal now is to jump as high as I did in college, 14-7 (4.45.)"

   To Pascuzzo, the whole concept is to "bring our event to the attention of the fans.

   "This will be the oldest and best beach vault competition in the world and we are always delighted to bring it back to Seaside Heights."

    The man is a non-stop bundle of track and field energy.

  The "OnThe Road/ Track and Field World Tour" track and field camp he organizes each
July features such luminaries as Andre Phillips, Hollis Conway, Benn Fields, Derek Miles,
Carol Lewis-Zilli, Norman Tate, Ringo Adamson, Augie Wolf, Frank Harrison, Priscilla Frederick, Jon Kalnas, John Taylor, Brian Chaput. Thomas Jefferson, Tony Darden, and Ray Brown.

  He'll do other high jump and vault clinics the year round. He organizes a decathlon and finds time to coach the Lenape High School team.

  Gravity, needless to say, will always win.

  But the battle is never-ending.

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