Every day, sophomore Frank Shotwell runs full speed at a 12-foot high bar, uses a pole to propel his body over it, and drops onto a cushion below.
It sounds terrifying to most people, but Shotwell and the Michigan men’s track and field team rely on his pole-vaulting, one of seven events in the heptathlon, to win competitions.
“I was a little scared at first, running down the runway,” Shotwell said. “Just going up in the air and not knowing where you’re going to land is a little scary.”
In high school, Shotwell was a natural in the hurdles, had good speed for the sprints and even tried some of the throwing events. The pole vault didn’t come so easily.
“It took a good year to learn how to vault,” Shotwell said. “That was one of the events that gave me the most trouble.”
All facets of track and field are tested within the heptathlon. Pole vaulting, high jump, long jump and shot put fulfill the field portion. The 60-meter dash and the 1,000-meter run test an athlete’s speed and the 60-meter hurdles their agility.
Shotwell competed in the heptathlon for the first time this season at the Akron Open on Feb. 2.
He placed in the top three in all seven events, earning first place in the 60-meter hurdles and second place the pole vault.
His overall score of 5,525 points gave him a first place finish and a new Michigan heptathlon record. Sean Clancy had owned the record since 1995, until Shotwell shattered the mark by 217 points.
“That was a fantastic performance,” Michigan coach Ron Warhurst said. “He might get us to Nationals.”
Shotwell’s mark was a provisional qualifying score, making him eligible for the NCAA Indoor Championships. It also earned him his first Big Ten Field Athlete of the Week award.
But breaking the heptathlon record is just the beginning for Shotwell. When he first came to Michigan, Shotwell sat down with coaches and discussed his goals. They all decided that by graduation he could break both the indoor heptathlon and outdoor decathlon records.
High hopes for last season were crushed when he sprained his ankle in practice a few weeks before Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
Shotwell hopes a healthy ankle will make the difference this year. Aside from breaking records, He wants to win the heptathlon and the decathlon at the Big Ten Championships this season.
If Shotwell avoids injury, it’s the competition that should be scared these days.