POLE VAULTERS are used to spending time off terra firma but for a month or two last year Jax Thoirs’ entire career in athletics was up in the air. Plenty of people across Scotland wake up after Hogmanay every year to a dull ache in their body but what the 26-year-old from Glasgow experienced on New Year’s Day 2018 was something of a different order entirely. Waking up with a swollen, painful arm, he wasted no time getting himself to A & E and was promptly diagnosed with a blood clot.

To give it its Sunday name, this was an upper limb deep vein thrombosis, a genetic condition aggravated by the sheer amount of work he has done over the years on his upper body. A condition both life and career-threatening, it certainly put paid to his hopes of representing Scotland at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, having been selected to participate a month or so earlier.

“We had been in Crieff at an Air BnB, not drinking or anything, just a family night and I woke up to that,” said Thoirs, a former NCAA champion from his days at university out in Seattle. “It was hard to know what triggered it. But I literally woke up in the middle of the night. I knew something was wrong so I went to the doctor’s straight away and it was diagnosed as a blood clot immediately. It was pretty apparent I wasn’t going to be able to go to the Gold Coast.

“They said it was exercise induced, with a genetic component,” he added. “It happens to people like swimmers, throwers, people who use their upper body a lot, but there also needs to be some kind of genetic part to it. Exercising the upper body meant a muscle impinged on the vein so I guess you could say I was slightly in TOO good shape, whatever muscle it was under my arm got too big and was closer to the vein than it should be for most people.”

The main question was what happened next. For most normal citizens, the first remedy would be being prescribed blood thinning medication. The inherent dangers of Thoirs’ vaulting ambitions meant that wasn’t particularly feasible.

“It was an upper limb DVT and a DVT can go to the lung or the heart so I guess there was a chance that could have happened but I never felt my life was in danger or anything,” said Thoirs, whose day job as a lifeguard at the Western baths in Glasgow helps pay the bills.

“I wouldn’t say I am making a living out of pole vaulting - I wish I was!” he adds. “But I was getting to the point where I thought that year could have been the year that I started making a living out of it. So it was definitely annoying, they were making it seem like there was a chance that I wouldn’t be able to pole vault again. It was up in the air for a few months.

“If someone who didn’t do sport had got it they would put them on a course of blood thinners and hope that sorted the problem out,” said Thoirs. “But they gave me thrombolysis, put a tube in my arm which fired out an enzyme which took away the clot, and I think that treatment was what kept my vaulting career alive.

“There was talk of my vaulting in a helmet or headguard [like former Arsenal and Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech] because obviously there is a risk of me getting a cut. Vaulting is a risky sport and this is just another risk. I am still on a very low dosage of blood thinner which doesn’t increase the risk of bleeding greatly, but to all intents and purposes I am back to the way I was before.”

A self-confessed adrenaline junkie who might have become a gymnast if he didn’t stop growing, you coudl say that Thoirs is soaring again. He is still a fair distance short of world or Olympic qualifying standards but having claimed the England Athletics title in wet conditions at Manchester a few weeks ago then cleared 5.40 at Scotstoun ten days back, he will pull on a Scotland vest for the first time in two years back in Manchester today. Bouldering – a form of rock climbing which doesn’t use harnesses – is the latest outlet for his sense of adventure.

“When all this was ongoing, I did the long jump and some Highland games, events which didn’t use my upper body so much,” said Thoirs. “But since September I have been pole vaulting again and I am just gradually working my way through it.

“I feel like it is under my control whether I can jump higher or not. If I train right, look after my health, don’t see why I can’t jump higher than I have in the past.”

After Manchester it is back up the road as reigning champion and favourite for the FPSG Seniors championships at Grangemouth this weekend, even if young Reuben Nairne recently raised the bar on Thoirs’ Scottish Under-17 record. “There are some really good youngsters right now,,” said Thoirs ahead of the event which will be streamed on the BBC Scotland website. “But it is good it is still with a redhead I guess.”