Carson Valley has a new ‘Spirit’
Since 1987, virtually every world record set by a man or woman in the pole vault has taken their ride on a pole manufactured by UCS Spirit in Nevada.
And now Carson Valley has its share of the Spirit since the company’s pole manufacturing division — under the direction of Steve Chappell and Lane Maestretti — moved into a new 19,000 square foot facility on Meridian Boulevard near Minden-Tahoe Airport. After working out of Carson City for 30 years, they are quite happy to be in a new and larger plant that produces an average of 35-40 poles every day throughout the year.
“We love it down here. It’s great having all this room and space and we’ve had a lot of visitors,” Chappell said.
“We’re doing the same things we’ve been doing for a long time,” Maestretti added. “New generations of vaulters keep coming up.”
Paul Heglar, a world class vaulter in the early 1970s and now a volunteer coach at the University of Nevada, points out that the list of UCS clients includes all of the current world record holders. The athletes are doing the work, of course, but UCS Spirit poles have a solid reputation as world class facilitators.
“It’s not so much the pole as it is the vaulter,” Heglar said. “It still takes the vaulter to make the pole work, Steve and Lane will tell you that, too, but you’ve got to take your hat off to those guys. They’ve done so much for the pole vault world and they’re just kind of humble about it and keep moving on with their business.”
Chappell is looking forward to watching a number of those world class clients in action this week at the IAAF World Championships in London. The women’s pole vault qualifying is today, followed by the finals on Sunday. The men’s qualifying is Sunday.
Chappell, who competed as a vaulter in his native England, tells an interesting story about how he moved to the U.S. in 1975.
“I had a one-way ticket … a student ticket,” he said, laughing. “It’s been great. I fell into this great situation and met some terrific people and it’s been a lot of fun.”
WORK CLOSE TO HOME
Even with their elite clients, Chappell and Maestretti have always been devoted to promoting their event and sport to the youth of Northern Nevada. They have frequently attended high school meets during the spring over the years, and even put in time to help coach young vaulters. Another example is the National Pole Vault Summit in Reno, an event that celebrated its 26th anniversary in January.
“Steve and Lane been really supportive of the local community,” said Heglar, a longtime coach of high school and youth vaulters. “They started the Pole Vault Summit so they could make the sport safer. That’s why the Summit started and why it’s still there … teaching these kids how to do things correctly and safely.”
Dennis Gingrich, who coaches the vaulters for Douglas High School’s track and field program, noted that UCS Spirit is invaluable to his vaulters, and those at all other schools around the region.
“It’s just fantastic how they’re involved with the sport,” Gingrich said. “They’re very supportive and they did so much to help me and my kids, and they reach out to all of the kids up here in Northern Nevada.”
Chappell also noted that the company is starting a work program with Rite of Passage.
“They have kids they’re trying to get into the workforce and it helps us at the same time,” Chappell said. “Lane has known the coaches over there for a long time and they’ve helped us at the Summit, so it’s all falling into place.”
IN THE BEGINNING
Chappell collaborated with his father-in-law, George Moore, to manufacture poles for AMF Pacer in Carson City and Maestretti came on board after completing a successful track and field career at the University of Nevada. Maestretti was a two-time U.S. Olympic Trials decathlon qualifier and at one time held the American record in the decathlon pole vault.
After Pacer was sold in 1987 to a company that intended to move its pole vault division to the Midwest, Chappell and Maestretti decided to remain in Nevada and teamed with brothers Jeff and Larry Schwartz of UCS Spirit (headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.), the official equipment supplier to USA Track & Field.
The Spirit team got a big boost in the spring of that year from Fresno State University’s Doug Fraley.
“He needed a pole for the national championships because one of his broke,” Chappell said in a 2008 interview with The Record-Courier. “Lane flew to the competition, took the pole with him, and it just happened to match the right guy at the right time. Fraley went out and won the national championship on the new pole. That got a lot of attention.”
One key client was Sergey Bubka of Ukraine, who set the men’s world record 35 times and won 10 gold medals at the world outdoor and indoor championships from 1983-95. Bubka was the first vaulter to clear 20 feet and his 20-1½ stood as the world record until Renaud Lavillenie of France broke it in 2014.
Yet another client, Stacy Dragila, was instrumental in sparking a wave of interest among women vaulters during a career in which she won nine U.S. outdoor titles, world titles in 1999 and 2001, and the Olympic gold medal in 2000.
Among the athletes to watch in London at the World Championships are Lavillenie, Piotr Lisek of Poland, as well as Sam Kendricks and Sandi Morris of Team USA.
“Kendricks has really been strong, and maybe there’s a surprise out there somewhere,” Chappell said.
Keep an eye on 17-year-old Armand Duplantis — known as “Mondo” — who just completed his junior year at Lafayette High School in Louisiana and will compete for Sweden this coming week. Duplantis broke the junior world record with a 19-4¼ clearance at the Texas Relays in April.
“He’s been jumping since he was like 6 years old and he’s been breaking age group records all the way up,” Maestretti said. “When he started, he was so tiny, I made him some poles that were a lot smaller than what we normally sell. He’s got great technique, I mean, he’s got elite technique. He’s very young and he’s not very big, but he’s very athletic. He’s a phenom, for sure.”
Another story of interest is Lisek and how he won the men’s pole vault on July 21 at a Diamond League meet in Monaco. The 24-year-old Polish national record holder won despite having to compete on a borrowed pole.
“He’s a really tough guy,” Chappell said, adding that a shipment of new poles were sent to Lisek last week. “When he got to Monaco, his poles hadn’t come in, so one of the organizers said, ‘Well, there’s a storage room on the bottom floor and there are some poles there … and they’re Bubka’s poles.”
The poles were available from a time when Bubka lived and trained in Monaco, Chappell added.
“The funny thing is, he’s probably the only guy who could have used those poles; Bubka’s poles were strong because he was so powerful,” Chappell said. “Those poles are 15 years old and just happened to be sitting in a storage room. It’s like a Walt Disney script, you know. He’s a great story and we just hope it continues.”