LOUISVILLE, Ky. — "I can't explain where it comes from, I just try and make the best of every situation," said Bellarmine senior track and field star Benton Stone.
He has proven that this year. It’s one that started with him admittedly not at his best.
“I was definitely in some of the worst shape of my life,” Stone said.
The Lexington native’s junior year ended with a back injury. A high volume of training from being a decathlete had taken its toll and his summer training away. So his coaches had a solution.
“Let’s just focus on the hurdles and the pole vault because that's where he's the strongest,” Bellarmine head men’s track and field coach Chase Broughton said.
“So with that, and then him going to rehab and actually taking time this past summer to let his body heal, he was able to come into the season as healthy as he's ever been.”
“He grew tremendously this year compared to last,” Bellarmine assistant track and field coach Bill Hearn said. “He worked harder than he ever worked before. This year was the most coachable and receptive to instruction that he's ever been in his life.”
Stone improved his pole vault by nearly a foot and a half this year. That was good enough to rank him in second heading into the Great Lakes Valley Conference indoor championships. He was actually the favorite in the 60-meter hurdles when he took a step too soon.
“In the prelims, I actually false started, which disqualified me from that event,” Stone said. “And while that was going on, the pole vault was just about to get started.”
“Obviously, that would have been a pretty big blow for most people, as he was the favorite to win,” Broughton said. “But then he came back 20 minutes later and won the pole vault against the guy who was ranked higher than him. So I think that says a lot about it.”
“He can work his way through difficult situations and turn it around, and use it to his advantage,” Hearn said.
Never would that ever be more tested than the NCAA Division II Indoor National Championships. Stone was Bellarmine’s lone qualifier after becoming just the second indoor pole vault conference champion in school history.
“It was all falling together for him and we were setting personal records meet after meet after meet,” Hearn said.
But as COVID-19 news began to spread, the scene in Alabama began to change.
“When we're on our way down there, they informed us that they were canceling the student-athlete banquet that they always have,” Broughton said. “Then they said that it was going to be only immediate family members.”
Stone then did his normal pre-meet routine before everyone went back to their hotel.
“After we had that great practice, we find out from the NCAA that you know what, family can't come, just coaches and athletes,” Hearn said. “So he had to call his parents and tell them, ‘Hey mom and dad, you can't come see me.’ And they're like, what? They're getting ready to drive down. So then that was just heartbreaking.”
Hours later, the NCAA made the final call.
“We saw a social media post that the NCAA came out and announced that they were canceling basically all championships,” Broughton said.
“It was kind of out of nowhere where my coach called me and he was like, ‘It's over and the competition's been canceled. I can't do nothing about it,’” Stone said.
“It was very devastating for him because I'm very confident he would have walked away being an All-American,” Broughton said.
“To not get a chance to have an ending was just really, really tough,” Hearn said.
So the next day, the one where he was supposed to compete, Stone made his own. He went to a facility in Shelbyville where he practiced and set a high bar to jump.
“I didn't even know he was going to do it,” Broughton said.
"I was wanting to see where my training had led me,” Stone said.
Right to new heights: an unofficial personal and school-record jump that went viral on Twitter, racking up more than 200,000 video views, 350 retweets and 5,000 likes.
“I guess it was a lot of validation and just showing myself the season wasn't wasted away just because the one competition got canceled,” Stone said.
“It kind of gave him mental peace,” Hearn said.
That’s something everyone could use during this trying time.
“In a time where we're receiving a bunch of really negative news, I was hoping to show them just a glimpse of positivity,” Stone said.
He did by just showing a glimpse of himself.