From the Mountain State to Canada and soon Rocky Top, Capital senior pole vaulter Tristan Slater finds success and greater heights across North America.
Slater, born in North Bay, Ontario, Canada, before moving to Charleston, is the three-time defending Class AAA pole vault state champion and placed fourth for Team Canada at the Pan American Junior Championships in Edmonton, Alberta. On Nov. 12, Slater signed his letter of intent to vault for the University of Tennessee.
'It's a very good feeling and a great sense of relief that I know that I'm accepted and I'll be going to Tennessee next fall,' Slater said. 'It is one of the top schools in the United States for pole vaulting and they have a very rich history.
'For me, it just came down to what I really loved and I loved Tennessee and it feels like home to me.'
In a Nov. 30 news release, Tennessee's Beth Alford-Sullivan, director of track and field and cross country, said 'Tristan joins the UT pole vaulting legacy ranked as the No. 1 high school pole vaulter. We are thrilled for him to continue the success within this event area in our program. Tristan is a true scholar of the event, a great student and all-around athlete. We are excited to see all that he brings to the table.'
Slater takes instruction from coaches at Capital and his AAU club, the Capital City Striders, as well as his mother Tracy Bailey.
'I think anyone will tell you coaching your own child - there's a fine line that you walk, the athlete and the parent,' Bailey said. 'We've had a few heated moments and you've just got to walk that line just like any coach, but at the end of the day he's still getting in my car and coming home with me, so it's tricky, but it's fun and we've really enjoyed it.'
Though Slater vaults at national and international competitions, he aims to make the most of his final high school season, with sights set on the state meet record. Parkersburg's Casey Freed set the mark of 17 feet, 0 inches in 1995.
Slater won his first two state titles with a height of 14 feet, 6 inches, and he won the third at 14 feet, 0 inches. Those heights fall short of Freed's, but Slater posted 16 feet, 6 inches at the Gazette Relays last season and 5.20 meters (approximately 17 feet, 1 inch) at the Pan American Junior Championships July 31.
Among the keys to his success has been a training regimen complemented by gymnastics, Slater said.
'Gymnastics is a very good part of my training,' he said. 'It just builds a lot of body control, learning how to stay high on top of the pole when you push off, so that way you can clear the bar obviously and also not be a complete mess on top.'
Slater's dedication also represents a significant factor in his continued improvement, Bailey said.
'More than anything, it's his work ethic,' she said. 'I truly believe you have to obviously be athletic or have some specific capabilities, but he just works really, really hard, and he sacrifices a lot. I can't tell you how many times his buddies have been like, 'Oh, we're having a party this weekend,' but [he says] 'No, I can't. I have to go train' or 'I'm going out of town.' '
For now, Slater trains locally and competes regionally, but his success and aspirations continue to lead him to international competition.
'It's coming from the hard work I've been putting in these past few years and I'm going to continue to do that,' Slater said, 'and hopefully excel in the future and reach my main goal, my dream of being in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. That's my big goal.'