When it comes to preparing a kitbag for pole vault competition, a stop at the local rowing sheds doesn’t strike as the most obvious starting place.
Yet for Commonwealth Games vaulter Declan Carruthers he has made a habit of lining up for competition in the body-hugging material known more commonly as a zootie.
If the two sports seem at odds, it can perhaps be best un-riddled within the walls of the WAIS training hub in Mt Claremont.
"I love competing in body suits and obviously always love to compete in WAIS (branded clothing),” Carruthers said.
But with the track and field kit range at WAIS more specialised towards training wear, Carruthers had spotted his fellow WAIS rowing athletes wearing their zoot suits whilst completing ergo training sessions inside the WAIS High Performance Service Centre.
It was from that lead that he decided to investigate.
"I didn’t really know who to talk to, but I got pointed to Rhett (Ayliffe) the rowing coach in WAIS and he had a few spare zooties for me, so for the past 18 months I’ve been competing in them,” he said.
"It fits well and I think it looks pretty good.”
In a sport where athletes thrust themselves towards the skies at over half the height of an Olympic 10m diving platform, you can begin to understand why they want a garment that reduces the risk of catching the bar.
And if Carruthers’ progress over the same period of time can be used as a barometer, his zoot suit prowess has helped him towards a qualifying berth for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and a new personal best at a local meet in Perth earlier this year.
It should therefore come as little surprise that his feats attracted the attention of emerging star Sasha Zhoya – who shattered a national U18 record at the Perth Track Classic last Saturday – whilst also sporting a WAIS Rowing zootie.
But before rowing gets too much credit, Carruthers tells that but for fickle nature of fate, it might’ve been a kayak zootie that Zhoya was breaking records in.
"I actually had a retro zootie from Steve Bird (WA kayaking great) that he gave me last year but unfortunately it didn’t quite fit Sasha, so I think he went up to Rhett and got one as well.”
Carruthers won the men’s pole vault competition at the Perth Track Classic but he remains hungry for more and is already targeting much bigger goals ahead.
"I’m happy with the progress over the past few weeks, we tried to kind of step back from competition for a couple of weeks and had a fun comp in Bunbury at the street meet that sort of refreshed the brain a little bit.
"We had a really good couple of weeks of training to work on a few different things, it’s (now) just a matter of executing it in comp on the bigger poles and then the bigger heights will come,” he said.
"I’m happy with where I am, the body’s in really good shape, it’s just a matter of getting those good jumps more consistently and I think we’re in with a really good shot for nationals.
Carruthers is originally a Brisbane boy, but grew up and cut his teeth in pole vault in Adelaide. At just 21 he holds a maturity and respect throughout the entire athlete group at WAIS that is usually reserved for those far longer in the tooth.
The sport can also be brutally introverted, but it has become increasingly noticeable that since he landed in Perth to work with Alex Parnov back in 2016, just how much his influence has helped in developing a flourishing squad culture within the entire pole vault group.
Further reflection of that clause is evidenced by Adelaide’s Kurtis Marschall and Sydney’s Angus Armstrong both deciding to follow his lead and take up the relocation west.
Whilst the appeal of highly credentialed coaches and the legacies of a number of elite athletes both past and present would have also created a positive sell for Perth, so too was the roll the dice path already successfully established by Carruthers.
"Probably the biggest reason all of us are here, is to train and push each other,” Carruthers said. "It’s honestly probably one of the best training groups in Australia for athletics. We’re under the best coaches in the best facility for pole vault in Australia.”
But typically, he was quick too to point out the successes of his teammates.
"Kurtis nearly jumping a PB of 5.93m in France, Sasha is just a genuine freak at everything, Angus – my new housemate – he came over last year and he’s killing it and transitioning amazingly, Stephen with a PB (at the Perth Track Classic), finally that came for him he’s been attempting every week and Lauren as well (PB at Perth Track Classic).
"I’m very happy for everyone, I’ve just gotta look after myself now and make sure I get the result that I know that I can get.”
When pressed on what the rest of 2019 looks like, he was quick to set his sights on the IAAF World Championships and he believes that he can get there.
"I definitely want to get that qualifier for Doha I think it’s very achievable. I’m trying a few things off the track as well to try and make sure that that happens and hopefully that pays off, but I think that I’ve just got to believe in myself and I think that it’ll come.”
His belief appears well justified. He has raised his personal best to 5.60m this summer and the A-Qualifying standard rests at 5.71m.