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Senior athlete proves age is just a number

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Flo Filion Meiler, an 84-year-old record-setting pole vaulter, trains at the University of Vermont indoor track in Burlington, Vt. She turns 85 in June and plans to compete in the National Senior Games in New Mexico that month.

BURLINGTON, Vt. >> An 84-year-old pole vaulter isn’t putting her pole down anytime soon.

Flo Filion Meiler competed last month in the World Masters Athletics Championships Indoor in Poland, where she earned gold in the 4×200 relay, pentathlon, 60-meter hurdles, high jump and pole vault, as well as silver medals in the long jump and triple jump.

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 recently after track and field training at the University of Vermont.

Meiler did not have any competition in the pole vault at the championships in Torun, Poland. She was the only one registered in her age group, 80-84, for the sport, for which she set a world record at age 80.

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 medals. She took up pole vaulting at 65.

Setting a record at age 80 with a 6-foot 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.

The overall world record for women’s pole vaulting is 16.6 feet according to the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Meiler turns 85 in June, when she’ll head to the National Senior Games in New Mexico.

That will put her in a new age group, in which she hopes to set even more records.

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