Hannibal native Christian Locke elevated his pole vaulting to the next level at Southeast Missouri State University.
Christian Locke experienced a bittersweet day at the 2016 Ohio Valley Conference indoor track and field championships.
The Hannibal native's best pole vault jump broke the Southeast Missouri State University program record at 17 feet, ¾ inches. That height also proved enough to win the conference title.
Locke's next attempt was just as memorable, but for another reason. The standout landed awkwardly and broke his right femur.
“I beat the school record and then I went for the OVC record, and that's when I broke my hip,” Locke explained. “It was tough, but I took it just fine.”
Forced to sit out for the outdoor portion of the season last year, Locke maintained eligibility to compete outdoors this spring.
While he admits his strength is still not where it was before the injury, that reality didn't keep him from winning another conference pole vault championship and reaching the NCAA Division I Outdoor West Prelims in Austin, Texas, in May.
“My last year was pretty good,” said Locke, who graduated with an undergrad business degree in May 2016 and is halfway through a Master's program in environmental science. “It was kind of rough because I was coming off that injury and I never fully came back, but I was still making it happen and I jumped almost a PR and I won conference and then went to first-round nationals.”
Locke's career at SEMO was one of continuous improvement. After adjusting to the collegiate level his freshman and sophomore years, he began a streak of individual conference titles in four straight seasons in which he competed, indoor and outdoor combined.
“It was a little scary at first,” Locke said of the transition into college. “You go into a D-I program and you're going against a lot of guys who are really good. But at the same time, it was a lot of fun. We were a smaller D-I college, but toward the end of my career, I was beating a lot of the bigger school pole vaulters.”
Locke was in good company on his SEMO squad. At the 2017 outdoor championships, Redhawk pole vaulters swept the podium.
“I think we were the only event to do that,” he said. “Going to conference and competing, the whole team, everybody was together and rooting each other on because it's the time of the year that it counts. It's awesome winning and knowing you get a championship ring.”
Locke remembers his Hannibal roots even while away in Cape Girardeau, Mo. The 2012 Hannibal High School grad won the Class 3 state championship in the pole vault before advancing to the next level.
He credits his success to his parents, Terry and Becky, for helping him along the way.
When Locke first developed his passion for pole vaulting the summer before his freshman year of high school, Terry would drive him to O'Fallon, Mo., once a week for special training. The family even had a pole vault pit set up in its backyard.
Locke also is quick to point out his coaches who helped him improve over the past decade.
“I was blessed growing up through my career,” he said. “I had a lot of coaches help me out like Dennis Hancock and Brian Hancock from Monroe City. They're local legends. They had open arms for me.”
After receiving much from others, the vaulter now gives back to the sport as a coach. He will serve as a graduate assistant for SEMO this coming season before moving on to the next phase of his life, when he hopes to became an agronomist.
“I think I will continue (pole vaulting), but not as serious,” he said. ”Just more for fun. It's been a great time of my life. It's led me to great experiences and meeting great people.”
Locke suggested any athlete with an opportunity to pursue collegiate track and field should give it a shot.
“It's the time of your life,” he said, adding he currently lives with three of his former teammates. “You're sitting there side-by-side with each other day in and day out, working hard, putting in a lot of time in the weight room and just competing with each other.”