"First you have to be a sprinter, then you turn into a gymnast, then a weight lifter," says coach David Butler. As he's explaining the mechanics of pole-vaulting, a gazelle-like young collegian races down the track, plants her pole and launches herself gracefully over a suspended bungee before landing neatly in a cushioned blue mat. "Longer pole!" Butler yells. This is a compliment. The better the pole-vaulter, the longer the pole. And Coach Butler knows what he's talking about: After coaching a national champion at Memorial High School, he was invited to coach Rice's team, and now he's recognized as one of the nation's experts on the sport. Three nights a week, he offers his wisdom at open clinics.
Butler notes that he's even taught senior citizens how to vault. His only restriction? "I don't take any daredevils," he says. Pole-vaulting is a deliberate, difficult sport, and people who think they can just fling themselves on their first go are liable to crash, freak out or end up with a pipe in the wrong place. Butler starts neophytes with a series of 100 drills and a two-foot pole, but you can begin working toward the longer poles at 5 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Rice University Track Stadium, entrance No. 6 (off Main). For information, call 713-417-1274 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. $30. -- Julia Ramey
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Kids tangled in the lights, kids knocking down wreaths, kids eating all the pie. We suggest you send them into the woods so you can get some shopping done. Your little tykes won't need to leave a trail of bread crumbs, though; the folks at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center's Winter Camp will ensure that they make their way safely through the forest, all the while searching for hibernating insects, collecting pinecones to make bird feeders, and learning how critters adapt to the cold. Kids ages five to 12 can tour the arboretum's 155 acres and use role-playing, crafts and games to study the wintry woods. Camp runs from 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, December 21, through Thursday, December 23; and Tuesday, December 28, through Thursday, December 30. 4501 Woodway. For information, call 713-681-8433 or visit www.houstonarboretum.org. $75 for members; $120 for nonmembers. -- Julia Ramey