By: John Daniels
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Benton Stone, a Bellarmine pole vaulter, had planned to take the NCAA D-II Track and Field Championships by storm. Instead, his dreams were taken away by the coronavirus. So, Stone figured out another way to compete — this time against himself.
He had qualified to compete in the championships, which were to be held in Birmingham, Alabama, March 13 and 14.
The NCAA announced the competition had been canceled just as Stone arrived 24 hours prior to his first NCAA championship competition. He was the only Bellarmine track and field team member for either the men’s or women’s teams to qualify.
“My initial reaction was shock,” Stone said. “It took some time to process the information along, then got with the coaches then asked if we could go ahead and head home.”
Bellarmine coach Chase Broughton told Stone as soon as he heard the news. He said, “It was very difficult for everyone involved, but I think knowing that we were all going through it together made it a little bit easier.”
The day Stone returned home, he went to a facility where he practiced and started competing against himself. The Lexington native ended up setting an unofficial personal and school record at 5.2 meters (just above 17 feet). The video of the jump has almost 230,000 views on Twitter (at the time this story was published).
“The feeling after setting this new unofficial personal record was a lot of validation,” Stone said. “This was a high I never thought was imaginable.”
It was not easy to qualify for the NCAA D-II Track and Field Championships, just like it was not easy to handle the news that the competition had been canceled. To compete in the championship, an athlete must qualify and win his or her event at the conference tournament. It takes years of hard work and an incredible work ethic for athletes to qualify for just one event.
Stone had been battling a back injury during the off-season.
“Ben is an incredibly hard worker and will do whatever is asked of him,” Broughton said. “He made some sacrifices, including giving up other events he enjoyed, to preserve his health.”
There is often a lesson that can be learned from a negative experience.
Stone said: “One lesson that I took away from this crisis is that you can’t really control everything you want to. I definitely could not control the NCAA’s decision to cancel the national championships, but I could control what I would do after the competition.”
His teammate and fellow senior Jake Ryan said, “He’s been working for that moment all season long and having that taken away from him at the national championship is heart breaking.” He added, “I’m just happy for him to go out and have the best vault of his life after the adversity he has went through.”
Stone said he plans to continue his track and field career whether it is using his fifth year of eligibility in graduate school or competing unattached.