Brandon Estrada vaults for Puerto Rico

CLOVIS -- Brandon Estrada's first love is pole vaulting. His second love is the island of Puerto Rico.

Those two loves converge in Estrada's dream of waving the Puerto Rican banner at next year's Olympic Games in London.

But first, the 24-year-old son of actor Erik Estrada must make a good showing at qualifying meets like the Pan American Games in México in October.

Estrada was in his element at last Friday's 17th annual North American Pole Vaulting Championships in Old Town Clovis. Among the competitors were 2011 NCAA champion Melissa Gergel and 2008 U.S. Olympian April Steiner-Bennett. Stacy Dragila, the U.S.'s gold medalist at the 2000 Olympics, signed autographs.

Estrada needs a mark of 6 meters, 60 centimeters to earn a spot on the Puerto Rican Olympic team.

But last Friday, he failed to clear a height due to an on-going groin injury. His best vault remains at 6 meters, 52 centimeters.

"I have two more months in my season. I'll find other meets in between (now the Pan American Games), and hopefully get that Olympic standard if possible," he said.

"I'm eager to win, eager to jump high and eager to represent Puerto Rico. Just the pride that they have in their (Puerto Rican) athletes. I love the island, I love the pride, I love the culture, everything, all of it. It's beautiful."

Last year's Central American and Caribbean Games' silver medalist suffered the groin injury this summer in Italy. It's the same injury that kept him from returning to Puerto Rico this year.

And it's the same injury that plagued him in Clovis, but he remains confident, hoping he will be completely healed in time for Guadalajara.

"I was really excited to go to Puerto Rico for the Caribbean Games again because I won a silver (medal) there last year, but the over training in Italy. That did it," said Estrada, who finished second with a vault of 5 meters, 40 centimeters.

He was trained for the international spotlight in pole vaulting at USC. As a senior last year, he cleared 18 feet, 5 inches at the NCAA Indoor Championships and earned All-American honors.

He finished the Caribbean Games in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico last year with a vault of 5 meters, 20 centimeters, behind México's Giovani Lanaro who earned the gold with a record 5 meters, 60 centimeters.

Lanaro, a track and field instructor at Mount San Antonio College, is already in México preparing for the Pan American Games.

"It's such a privilege to be Puerto Rican; I wish I was full Puerto Rican instead of half," said Estrada, a two-time NCAA All-American.

In many circles, Brandon Estrada is still known as the son of Erik Estrada, who portrayed Ponch on the 1970's television series 'CHiPs.'

Spectators asked Brandon for autographs and to pose for pictures during his stay last week.

"The crowd, the energy, the music. You really get hyped up here; this is probably the best is gets in California for me," he said.

Physical fitness tips by 2008 U.S. Olympian April Steiner-Bennett. She will compete at the Pan American Games in Mexico this year.

At 135 pounds, with a 9 percent body at last count, Steiner-Bennett talks about how to stay in shape."I think pole vaulting has the most physically fit athletes in the world," said Steiner-Bennett."It's a head-to-toe event. You have to be strong in all dimensions."

What do you do to stay fit?"Personally, I've added a lot of gymnastics for core strength and circuit work with an Olympic coach. A lot of weight lifting, Olympic lifting, sprinting, hills; it's just every area we try and tap into."

How often do you vault?"Vaulting, you can only do it maybe twice a week, sometimes three times a week. It's really, really hard on your body. So you have to fill in your time with other things."

What do you tell someone who has trouble with discipline and staying in shape?"Even on your bad days, that's when you make the decision and do it for just 20 minutes. They've shown in research that exercises releases some good hormones, and like seratonin into your blood stream. It's an up-lifting hormone, so the day that you are down and just had a bad day, you got to get out there and go for a walk, get somewhere beautiful, clear your mind and get your blood going."

How often do you train?"We definitely need breaks. Sunday is a good break day, Wednesdays and Saturdays are somewhat lighter, but it's definitely 5 to 6 days a week; two to four hours, I would say, there's also physical therapy. There's a lot of preventable stuff we have to do outside of training to keep everything healthy."

What about diet?"There's a Farmer's Market out here. I raided the Farmer's Market today; I have a huge box of produce I'm taking home with me. I really love fresh fruits and vegetables; protein, go easy on the wheat products. Moderation on the breads and carbohydrates. Definitely a colorful plate, if you're missing a color on your plate, you need to get a purple, get a grape or an egg plant. Reds, greens, oranges, try to get as many colors on your plate."


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