Pole vaulter, 84, sets sights on more records

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY LISA RATHKE

An 84-year-old pole vaulter isn’t putting her pole down any­time soon. Flo Fil­ion Meiler left Thurs­day for the World Mas­ters Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onship In­door in Poland, where she’ll com­pete in events in­clud­ing the long jump, 60-me­ter hur­dles, 800me­ter run, pen­tathlon and pole vault, for which she’s the shoo-in.

The pe­tite, en­er­getic woman from Shel­burne, Vt., said she feels more like 70 than nearly 85.

“But you know, I do train five days a week. And when I found out I was go­ing to com­pete at the worlds, I’ve been train­ing six days a week be­cause I knew I would re­ally get my body in shape,” she said last week, af­ter track and field train­ing at the Univer­sity of Ver­mont.

But she lit­er­ally won’t have any com­pe­ti­tion in the pole vault in the cham­pi­onships, which runs March 24-31 in Torun, Poland. She is the only one reg­is­tered in her age group, 80-84, for the sport, for which she set a world record at age 80. In the men’s pole vault, nine men are listed as com­pet­ing in that age group.

Meiler said the events she likes best are the hur­dles and the pole vault – one of the more dar­ing track and field events, in which com­peti­tors run while car­ry­ing a fiber­glass or com­pos­ite pole, brace it against the ground to launch them­selves over a high bar, and land on a mat.

“You re­ally have to work at that,” she said. “You have to have the up­per core, and you have to have tim­ing, and I just love it be­cause it’s chal­leng­ing.”

Meiler is used to hard work. She grew up on a dairy farm, where she helped her father with the chores, feed­ing the cat­tle and rak­ing hay. In school, she did well at bas­ket­ball, took tap and ball­room danc­ing, and, liv­ing near Lake Cham­plain, she wa­ter skied.

Meiler, who worked for 30 years as a sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Her­bal­ife nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments, and her hus­band, Eugene, who was a mil­i­tary pi­lot and then be­came a fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst, to­gether com­peted in wa­ter ski­ing.

“Many times when I did wa­ter ski com­pe­ti­tion, I was the only gal in my age group,” she said.

She’s a rel­a­tive new­comer to pole vault­ing and track and field, over­all. At age 60, she was com­pet­ing in dou­bles tennis with her hus­band in a qual­i­fy­ing year at the Ver­mont Se­nior Games when a friend en­cour­aged her to try the long jump be­cause com­peti­tors were needed.

“That was the beginning of my track ca­reer,” she said, stand­ing in a room of her home, sur­rounded by hun­dreds of hang­ing medals. She took up pole vault­ing at 65.

Set­ting a record at age 80 with a 6-foot (1.8me­ter) pole vault at the USA Track and Field Adiron­dack Cham­pi­onships in Al­bany, N.Y., while her hus­band watched, Meiler said, was one of her hap­pi­est days.

“I was scream­ing, I was so happy,” she said.

Flo Fil­ion Meiler

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