The first time Gerard Dumas tried pole vaulting, he did it using some rather unconventional equipment.
After seeing vaulters jump in 1948 in France, Dumas decided to try his hand at the sport, but quickly realized he didn’t have the proper equipment. That’s when he got creative.
In Dumas’ grandparents garden, the then 13-year-old tore off a large branch from a nearby hazelnut tree to use as his pole. Then he stuck a crossbar between the two trees to use as the bar, which he used to propel himself over. He wanted to try the sport and nothing would stop him.
“It’s something I always wanted to do. I just wanted to do it,” said the 82-year-old, who was recently honoured for his commitment to the sport.
For the next year he used his self-made pole vaulting equipment to practice, but Dumas has come a long way since then.
After joining a pole vaulting club in France, Dumas immigrated to Canada in 1963, where he continued his love of the sport. Over the last 70 years, Dumas has competed in more than 1,100 competitions — jumping as high as 14 feet, 11 inches during one competition when he was in his early 30s.
But he soon wanted to do more than compete, and made it his mission to introduce more people to the sport. When he came to Victoria roughly 54 years ago, there were few facilities that offered pole vaulting. Shortly after, he went around to local schools, introduing himself and encouraging others to pick up a pole and jump. He also coached at the YMCA.
Dumas has also been a coach with the Victoria Track and Field Club since 1966. Over the years, his athletes have been selected to compete on national teams, at the Olympics, the Commonwealth and Pan-Am Games, as well as national, provincial and high school championships.
Recently, Dumas was awarded the lifetime achievement award during the National Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nevada, in front of thousands of athletes from around North America. It was an award he was shocked to receive.
While he’s competed in thousands of competitions, Dumas’ proudest accomplishment has come from coaching young athletes and helping them develop their skills over the years.
“My biggest accomplishment doesn’t concern me. It’s to have interested more than 300 to 400 kids in Victoria to jump and do well,” Dumas said.