The dream of growing up, becoming a professional athlete and being endowed in a life of luxury is a frequent one to children. Though half of that dream has turned into a reality, a lavish lifestyle is the complete opposite from what Briar Ploude lives.
Ploude, a five-time All-American high jumper at Emporia State University, turned professional after graduating in 2014. He lives in Hays and trains with Fort Hays State University jumps coach Ty Haas. However, in order to balance rent, utilities and money to travel to meets, Ploude spends many nights working the graveyard shift at the Days Inn just to get by.
“Those guys playing baseball and basketball are loaded,” Ploude said while sharing a laughing with his coach. “That’s what you think about when you’re young. It’s so much different in our sport because there’s not that money there. If you’re top-three in the U.S., you could be comfortable. On top of that, bring a professional athlete is a full-time job of in itself… It’s not all the glory and everything else people think it is. It’s hard but I wouldn’t trade it away.”
On top of work, Ploude balances student-teaching and working as an assistant coach under Haas. As a top-20 American jumper living in the Midwest, finding high-profile, competitive meets can be tough for Ploude and Haas. In order to try and gain the exposure needed to move up the rankings and gain sponsors, Ploude will spend nine days in Sweden in July, capped off by a chance in an international meet.
With funds tight from not holding sponsorships to receive free travel and gear, Haas found a solution.
Haas and Fort Hays head track coach Dennis Weber, along with the Hays Striders youth track club, put together a Fort Hays State jumps festival to raise money and showcase the talents of Ploude and a number of other Fort Hays jumpers.
“The challenge that these guys face coming to the Midwest is finding a lot of good competitions and then funding is always a issue,” Haas said. “For us, (Ploude) is putting in blood, sweat and tears for me on the track… Unless you’re in the top-three in the U.S., you’re not making a lot of money doing it, you love it. We want to give them the opportunity to succeed if they’re gonna come here.”
While one of the most prolific flyers in the country will be on hand, Saturday’s event is open to all ages and skill levels. The festival begins at 4 p.m. at Lewis Field Stadium with an open competition in the long jump and pole vault, followed by an open triple jump and high jump competition at 5. At 7 p.m., Ploude and a number of former, current and future jumpers will take the runway for the invitational high jump.
“Growing up, I see all these all guys running super fast, jumping super high, jumping super far and going from watching it on TV to going into college and watching it in person is totally different,” Ploude said. “Just providing that opportunity to see, especially little kids and their parents and people who have been around track, to be able to come out and see and support. Just giving people that sense of awe is what it’s all about.”
The event, which is USA Track and Final sanctioned, also will allow Ploude to work towards a 2.23 meter-mark that would all but guarantee Ploude a spot at the USA Outdoor Championships at the end of June.
After taking notes from last year’s showcase event with Fort Hays triple jumper Joshua Honeycutt, who is one of the top jumpers in the country, and has qualified for the outdoor championships, Haas believes there is plenty for fans to come watch Saturday.
“There’s a lot of people in the area interested in track and it’s something unique to have a jumper of this caliber. Not a whole lot of people walking down the street jump 7 feet and we have the capability of three guys that can do it,” Haas said. “Here, we’re not sponsored. It’s Briar and I getting on some puddle jumpin’ planes and getting down there and trying to figure it out on the fly. The financial issues that professional track athletes face are different…
“If Briar were in many other countries, he would be their No. 1 jumper. In the U.S., we’ve got some big bars to hit.”
Competing alongside Ploude is eight-time all-MIAA jumper at Fort Hays, Bryant Bombardier, Fort Hays sophomore Derek Bixenman, as well as 2015 signees Kolt Newell, Kal Hamm, Tregg Rodriguez and Aaron Voss.
Registration for events are $10 on site, with all funds going towards Ploude’s European trip expenses. The event also is free to the viewing public. For more information, contact Weber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“When you see it up close, it’s really unique,” Haas said. “It still takes me back and it’s a blessing to be able to work with these guys.”