Where Are They Now?: Mark Buse


Photos courtesy of Mark Buse
A three-time state champion in pole vault, an NCAA national champion and four-time Big Ten champ and All-American at Indiana University, former Southridge track and basketball star Mark Buse has seen many highs, but he’s also experienced some lows, including the tragic death of his first child. Through the whirlwind of peaks and valleys, Buse is still trying to settle into his new life.

By JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writer

Eleven years removed from the sport that brought Mark Buse athletic prosperity year after year from high school to college, he still can’t quite wrap his head around where all the that time has gone.

This year, Buse’s co-workers at Kimball International started dropping off clippings of The Herald noting the 25th anniversary of his first of three IHSAA state titles in pole vault from 1989 to ’91, which was just the beginning of a vaulting career that landed him four Big Ten titles and an NCAA national championship.

“It’s amazing how these years fly by,” said Buse, 41. “(Co-workers) leave (clippings) on my desk and I’m just like, ‘Wow, how does that fly by so fast?’”

Buse has been surrounded by the sport since he was nearly 5 years old, and it’s fitting then that the literal pattern of vaulting — first up, then down — has followed his own life. With the good — the titles, the records, his marriage — and the bad — the near-miss for an Olympic roster spot, the career-ending knee injury and, most tragically, the death of his first child, Blake, in 2010.

It’s been a whirlwind of peaks and valleys for the world-class athlete, who’s still trying to settle into his new life.

Buse didn’t as much choose vaulting as was born directly into it. Two of his three older brothers, Scott and Brad, picked up pole vault in middle school and patched a makeshift pit out of foam mats at the family farm in Holland. When Scott and Brad were jumping at Southridge High School, the program purchased new mats and the old ones quickly migrated to Holland as well. From the time he could hold a pole, Buse spent his summers jumping in Holland, even using a concrete runway the brothers covered with an old conveyor belt so they could practice with spikes.

Buse admits basketball was his first love, though. He owned the SHS career scoring record (1,121 points) for about 15 years until the current record-holder, Reid Sakel, passed him.

But he was just too good at pole vaulting to justify doing much else. He broke Southridge’s record — previously held by Brad and Scott before him — at his first meet as a freshman. He ascended to state champion by his sophomore year. Until this year, Buse’s leap of 17 feet, 3⁄4 inch was the highest jump ever by an Indiana high school athlete. By the time he left for Indiana University in 1992, he had grabbed two more state titles and said the hardest part about his freshman campaign at IU was “not coming in first all the time.” That didn’t last long. He captured the NCAA national championship in 1993, leaping 18-41⁄2.

“(That’s) quite easily my best accomplishment,” Buse said. “That kind of took things to a level that I hadn’t probably envisioned when I was younger.”

He finished his career with the Hoosiers with two indoor and two outdoor Big Ten titles and as a four-time All-American. His performance his senior season merited an invite to the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials. He made it into the final group of vaulters, but said he got a little overzealous and just missed an attempt at a career-best 18-8. He settled for ninth. A height of 18-8 would have punched his ticket to Atlanta.

“Moral to the story, at the time I was 22, they were in their 30s,” said Buse about the vaulters that qualified.

After graduating with a degree in computer information systems, Buse spent two years as a vaulting coach at IU, jumping occasionally at open meets. He worked for EDS, an information technology equipment company, in Bloomington for about 10 years after that and met his wife, Stephanie, at a friend’s wedding in 2005. They married around Christmas 2006 and moved to Jasper a few weeks later.

 


All the while, pole vaulting dwindled. He remained active, but said to reach that next level, he probably would have needed to spend summers in warmer climates jumping year-round. He watched two of his old contemporaries, Nick Hysong, the 1994 national champion from Arizona State, and Tim Mack, the ’95 indoor champion from Tennessee, earn gold medals at the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics, respectively.

“That was real tough to stomach watching that,” Buse said. “I was happy for them, but at the same time, you know, I was just as good as they were in college. They just kept kind of doing it and I just faded away.”

Family always came first. Buse is a “family-oriented guy,” he explained. He didn’t want to stray too far from the Buse clan, which is still scattered across Dubois County. He hung up vaulting for good when he blew out his knee playing basketball around 2003.

Things were settling down. He got an information technology job at Kimball, where his brother Brad, and sister, Bev Messmer, worked.

Then, the accident.

In September 2010, Buse was driving with Blake, then 22 months, and his second son, Brandon, now 4, in the back seat. While turning east onto Old State Road 64 from a county road near Zoar, a driver heading westbound slammed into the rear driver’s side door. Blake was airlifted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville, where he died later that day.

“That’s a life-altering event, to say the least,” Buse said. “It’ll be consuming forever, but it brings you to your knees. You’re pretty much totally consumed by that.”

Blake would have turned 5 in November, and Buse said that while things becomes easier, the pain never leaves, just slowly dulls.

“It’s just something that you have no choice but to live with,” Buse said. “But at the same time ... now we have three kids. They want their mom and dad around and we have to support them, so you do the best you can.”

Buse said he and Stephanie have tried “to build ourselves back up,” and he originally found himself getting more involved in work just to keep himself distracted, but the focus now is on family. He’s since welcomed two daughters, Blair, 2, and Bailey, 7 months. While he’s always thought of getting back into coaching locally, he’s not in any rush.

The old pole vaulting runway and pit are still out there in Holland. The family’s been able to snag another recycled mat, this time from Tell City. Brad Buse has a 6-year-old son and the expectation is that one day, there will be another fleet of Buses crowding the top spots in all the pole vault events.

But not yet. There’s still time.

“I need my kids to get older first,” he said about getting into coaching. “I value that time, more so now than I probably would have before. That’s time I’m not going to give up.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli




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