If Evel Knivel had taken up track and field instead of motorcycling, he probably would have been a pole-vaulter.
Aerialists, acrobats, mountain climbers, sky divers, surfers and pole-vaulters - they're all the same breed. They know little fear. They are adventurous, cocky and sometimes flaky.
But pole-vaulters are still in a different world from the other dare-devils. A world-class vaulter has to be an exceptional athlete.
After all, he has to carry a 16 1/2-foot pole 50 yards down a runway while running full speed and then use it to catapult himself straight up and over a cross bar.
No other event in track involves more technique, concentration and athlete ability - not only to make the height, but to remain in one piece.
"The people who'll jump 18 feet are the people who will do anything" says Mike Tully, currently the best vaulter in the world. "They're the daredevil people of our society. To be a vaulter, you have to be crazy and kind of carefree, but you also have to be controlled."
Pole-vaulting is one of the sport's most glamorous events - partly because it is beautiful to watch, and partly because of vaulters look like one of the Beach Boys.
"Pole-vaulting is a unique event for the simple reason that it is dangerous," said Tom Tellez, track coach at the University of Houston, who is considered to be one of the top vault coaches in the country and is the man who taught Tully to vault.
"I didn't know what I was going before I got with him," Tully said of Tellez. "With Tom, I learned why to do things."
"Every vaulter knows that at some point he is going to have an accident and get hurt," said Tellez.
"That's what makes it so much fun." Tully responds. "You're flying and flying is fun. No, I've never been scared. The scared people stop vaulting at 12 feet.
Tully, a UCLA senior, holds the world indoor record of 18-5 1/2, set in the NCAA indoor championships earlier this season. He would also have the world outdoor record if some officials at the Pac-8 meet a month ago had done their jobs correctly.
Tully won the event at the Pac-8 meet with a vault of 18-8 3/4, a half-inch higher than Dave Roberts' 2-year-old world record. Meet officials measured the height before Tully's jump, but NCAA rules require that it also be measured after a record jump. To do that, they had to move the standards so the bar was directly over the planting box and, when they did that, the bar fell off. When they put it back and remeasured it, it was only 18-8 and not a record.
"That's ridiculous, but there's nothing I can do about it now," Tully says.
Tully is 6-3, 190 pounds, which is ideal for a vaulters. He also has that fine balance between strength and speed. Yet like all of the other world-class vaulters, he competes in no other event.
For one, no other event has the lure and attraction that vaulting has.
"If it weren't for pole-vaulting, I wouldn't even be in track," Tully said. "I'd be playing football."
Another reason vaulters vault and do little else in track is because of the uniqueness of the pole vault. It usually takes the entire meet to complete the vaulting competition.
"It just takes too much concentration to do anything else," said Tellez. "It has no carryover into any other event. It is a very unusual event. You don't do it naturally when you're growing up. You have to learn how to vault from scratch."
It is not fair to assume that just because they don't compete in other events that vaulters aren't hard-working, dedicated athletes.
An indication of just what type of athletes vaulters are come in the first "Superstars" competition a few years ago when a pole-vaulter, Bob Seagren, won.
"The vaulters I've known in the past have always been the hardest-working and the most dedicated of people." Tellez said. "They are also thirsty to know and understand their event. A lot of runners just run. A vaulter cannot just vault.
"The thing that makes Tully so good is the same thing that makes any athlete good in any sport - desire. He also has great concentration. He knows what he has to do and he does it."
Tully has eight different poles of varying degrees of stiffness. He bases his decision on which one to use on the day of a competition on how he feels and on the weather.
"If I feel strong. I'll use a stiffer pole. It's obvious that a stiffer pole will catapult you higher," he said.
Pole vaulters have to have a lot of Hollywood in them, so it is understandable that many of them have been and are from Southern California.
Only certain airplanes can transport their poles, so they get a lot of attention at airports and in hotels.
They love it.