Jason Wurster wasn’t the only University of Toronto student kicking around Europe this summer but he was possibly the most conspicuous. He was the one trying to check a five-metre-long bag at the airline counter.
Wurster, a geography major and Varsity Blues athlete, is Canada’s top-ranked pole vaulter. He spent the summer competing in Europe and vaulted a personal best of 5.5 metres at an international meet in Germany in June. It’s the second-highest mark by a Canadian, and just 11 centimetres off the national record that Doug Wood set in 1991.
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Europe is the summer destination of choice for elite track-and-field athletes, and the top meets draw Olympic and world champions. “For the major meets, they’re inviting vaulters with 5.75 personal bests,” says Wurster, 24. “I was in the next tier and was still competing against guys who I had only seen on video. It’s been great to compete where track and field has a big public following. In Germany we had one event where we were vaulting in a street with people lined up watching … you couldn’t imagine something like that at home.”
In 2007, Wurster broke his left ankle and tore ligaments in an accident during a competition in Louisiana. He didn’t have to undergo surgery but he did spend three months on crutches, all the while wondering how the injury would affect his ability to compete.
Most athletes don’t register personal bests coming off career-threatening injuries, but Wurster’s athletic career hasn’t followed a predictable course. In high school, he was a winger playing Major Bantam Triple A hockey. A neighbour in his hometown of Stevensville, Ontario – former vaulter George Krupa – encouraged him to try pole vaulting. A mere five weeks after he began competing, he finished second at a provincial high school track and field championship. “My future looked brighter there than in hockey,” he says.
In July, Wurster finished sixth in the men’s pole vault at the 25th Summer Universiade in Belgrade, Serbia. He still has some work to do to break Wood’s national record and meet the standards that Athletics Canada has set for next year’s world championships. But Wurster believes time is on his side. “The top vaulters peak at 28 or 29 years old and some compete well into their 30s,” he says.