Every once in a while, E.J. Bulauitan wonders just how much better a pole vaulter he’d be if he hadn’t waited until his junior year to try racing down a runway carrying a long, fiberglass pole, jam it into a metal receptacle and propel himself heavenward − on purpose.
“I wish I could have started even back in middle school,” Bulauitan said. “In the pole vault, experience is a big thing. You have to get used to it, the form, the repetition. I regret not trying it my freshman year.”
Back then, Bulauitan, an 18-year-old senior who enters this weekend’s NCHSAA Class 4-A state indoor track championships among North Carolina’s top vaulters, was a triple jumper and high jumper. But one day his junior year, Coach Jeff Thompson was putting his track athletes through a series of exercises, and it become clear that Bulauitan possessed a few talents that fit in perfectly with the pole vault.
“We do a variety of tests looking for different talents that kids might have — the 55-meter dash, standing broad jump, stuff like that — and he did well in a couple that showed he might be a good pole vaulter; he had good upper-body strength,” Thompson said. “I told him that you’ve gotta be a little crazy to be a vaulter.”
Bulauitan took to it right away.
“When I got in there for the first time, I fell in love with it,” he said. He was the Central Piedmont 4-A champion as a junior and has qualified for the state meet this year, improving his best vault by 18 inches.
“He is having a breakout season,” Thompson said. “Last year, he went 11-foot-6, and he’s already gone 13-feet this year. He’s made some significant strides, and I know I can count on him to bring his best every meet.”
Bulauitan said that a background in tae kwon do helped, he said, because he was used to acrobatics and twisting his body around in the air.
“I felt exhilarated to get that high. It seemed like it was second nature,” he said.
Bulauitan’s vaulting really took off when he started going to High Point’s Vault House, where he was introduced to better equipment and better competition.
“It helped me improve a lot, better poles, working hard, keeping at it, not beating myself up when it goes bad,” he said. “I think I can get to 14-6 or 15 feet by the end of the outdoor season. If I get the right pole, work on my technique, I feel like I can get 14-6, and maybe 15-0.
“Last year was my first full season pole vaulting. I started indoor season last year at 10-feet. I went 11-6 in outdoors.”