Moments after realizing he was a champion, former Live Oak pole vaulter Clayton Simms didn’t take much time to soak up the accomplishment.
“It was just relief, I guess,” Simms said. “After Garrett Brown, who was the guy who got second, missed that last attempt at 17, I knew I won. I don’t even think it’s really hit me now. I don’t really think it’s set in really.
“After I knew I won, the only thought that went through my head was ‘I did it. Where are we going to next?’ I looked at (coach) Joe (Sarra). I heard my mom scream a little bit from the stands, and then (it was) ‘what’s the next part?’”
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a big deal to Simms, who cleared 17 feet on his first attempt to win the pole vault title at The Outdoor Nationals presented by Nike in Eugene, Ore., last Thursday.
It’s taken some time to get to this point, with Simms using a third-place finish at the adidas Indoor Nationals in February as a springboard of sorts to get his outdoor season rolling.
“It felt like it was a long time coming at this point,” Simms said. “I went to indoors and came up a little short. I was really hoping to win that one, and I think after that, it kind of put me on a better course, I think. I think that it set me up to come back stronger, and we worked really hard, took a step back, assessed some stuff, and it worked out this time. I feel really, really good about it.”
Part of the adjustment for Simms was getting used to some new equipment, which he said is a necessity in pole vaulting.
“We were just going up to longer poles,” Simms said. “The jump gets better, you start needing more real estate as far as grips and stuff go. As the jump gets better, you have to do that. There’s no just staying on the same stuff and getting comfortable. You’re always going up and trying to get better and get to that next pole. It’s just a lot of variables to take in … but you try to make it as easy as possible.”
“I think that when you do change poles, you either go up to a stiffer pole or a longer pole … I think the goal is to try to change as least at possible to try to make it almost as identical,” Simms continued. “If you do your job, the pole should do its job. That’s the way I look at it.”
Simms also worked on adjusting his run, which he said helped in winning the national championship.
“The whole season I was trying to dial in my run because we had moved back to a bit longer of a run this year, which I think did a lot of good,” Simms said, noting it took until just before the state meet to get comfortable with the run. “It was one of my weaker points, and now I feel like we’ve worked on it so much that it’s the strongest point of my whole vault. It feels good to finally have something like that finally work when you’ve been working on it for so long.”
At the outdoor state meet, Simms went in looking to repeat as the Division I champion but finished second to Hammond’s Beau Domingue, who finished with a mark of 17 feet, ¼ inches. Simms finished with a mark of 16-4.75.
“Going into that state meet, yeah I wanted repeat, I wanted to win, but that was my last high school meet with those guys out there,” Simms said. “I had been jumping with them forever, and I was like, ‘win or lose, I just want to have fun.’ I want to prolong this competition, stay in, just make some bars and make it a good competition and have fun.”
Simms was dealing with a with a cut on his hand, which he opened up at the state meet but he said didn’t have an impact on his effort there.
“I had to get taped and paper towels and stuff to get it to get it to stop bleeding before my attempt,” Simms said. “I wasn’t hurt. I wasn’t actually injured.”
Although he didn’t win the state title, Simms said he was thrilled Domingue, who is a member of the Louisiana Pole Vault Club, where both athletes train, won the state title.
“Beau ended up PRing that day, had an insane day …,” Simms said. “I was just as excited, probably not more than he was. There was a video that went around. After he made the jump, I was over there, sprinted over and we were all jumping up and down and going crazy. It always makes me happy to go back and watch that. It was a real moment. It was fun.”
After state meet, Simms competed in a handful of meets in preparation for nationals.
“The game plan just going in was just to go out there and compete really,” Simms said. “That’s all you can really do. You’re going up against the best guys in the country. It’s never going to be a walk in the park, especially when you know I’ve competed with them before. I’ve competed with every single guy out there in national meets before, and we know what they’re capable of. We don’t really worry about them. We worry about what we’re capable of. You go out there, relax and compete. That’s all you can really do. Even if you don’t win, you don’t jump how you want to, you go out there and you compete your butt off because you never know when you’re going to get the opportunity again.”
Simms said clearing 17 feet on his first attempt at nationals kept a trend going.
“I think it was really good because I think that’s the fourth meet now in a row over 17,” Simms said. “Those three local meets that we had, I had jumped 17 1 and then I had three 17s before this meet, so going in, the confidence was there. I looked at it like it was any other bar. After I knew I won, it was just a really special thing.”
After that, Simms took aim at beating his personal record of 17-4 ½. He attempted 17-5 but missed on three attempts.
“After I won, it took and minute and then the adrenaline kind of subsided, but I think I had two really good attempts at it,” Simms said. “My first one was as close as it could be. I’ve got one more meet this summer. I’m not really too worried about PRing right now. I’m just going out there to have fun. At that point, I knew I won. The goal was accomplished.”
Brown (16-8) finished second at nationals, while Domingue (16-4) was third.
The next stop for Simms is Kansas, where he’s looking forward to working with Jayhawks associate head coach Tom Hays.
“He’s pretty much a legend in the sport,” Simms said. “He’s a big veteran, and I think he’s probably the best coach in the country in my opinion. I don’t know if I’m biased, but he’s really, really incredible. I just go in there having faith in my coach and it’s just working as hard as I can, not getting complacent and wanting to keep chasing whatever goal I have next.
“I was thinking about it earlier,” Simms continued. “I was like, ‘you know, I finally won the meet that I wanted to win.’ Now I guess I’m just going to go have fun until college and then find something else to chase.”