Pole-Vaulting Granny: It’s ‘Never Too Late’
By Jacque Wilson, CNN
(CNN) — Flo Meiler is 79 years old. She’s a grandmother to five, great-grandmother to two. She’s also a pole-vaulting, hurdle-jumping track and field star.
In 2011, she set the world indoor record in the pole vault for women over the age of 75. She set the world record for the 60-meter hurdles and the 4×100 meter relay that same year. She has also set records in the steeplechase, the discus, the 200-meter hurdles and the hammer throw.
In total, Meiler holds 15 world records and 12 U.S. records — not bad for a woman who picked up pole vaulting at 65.
Meiler, of Shelburne, Vermont, and more than 10,000 other seniors are taking their athletic prowess to Cleveland this weekend for the 2013 National Senior Games. CNN spoke with Meiler about her love of the long jump, her favorite world record and why other people thinks she’s, well, “a little nuts.” The following is an edited version of that interview:
CNN: Have you been active your whole life, or is this a new development?
Flo Meiler: Oh, I think I’ve been pretty active, but more active since I took up track and field at age 60. Believe it or not, I’m more active now.
CNN: How did you get into the sport so late?
Meiler: I was playing tennis — singles, doubles and mixed doubles with my husband — for the senior Olympics, and my training partner now, Barbara Jordan, came over and said, “We need people in track and field desperately, and I think you would be good at it.”
And I said, “Well, don’t look at me, I’ve never done track in my life.” She said, “When you’re done your tennis, come over and try the long jump.” So that’s what I did … and I fell in love with it immediately.
The year afterwards, I competed for the first time in track and field, and I did the long jump. I came in fourth out of 25 women. And in the high jump, I tied for third. Don’t you think that didn’t motivate me? (laughs) For being a track and field person for the first time?
So that got me going. And my training partner is a real go-getter and very hard worker. We both have broken all kinds of U.S. and world records. We challenge each other — but if one wins, gets a better score, it’s fine. We’re always in agreement, and we’re always good friends.
CNN: What is it about track and field that you like?
Meiler: Track and field is very challenging. My training partner, she excels more in the 100 and 200 sprints and stuff. I like the pole (vault) and the hurdles — they’re more challenging for me.
CNN: What do you like about pole vaulting?
Meiler: People think I’m a little nuts, I think (laughs). I was 65 when I first took it up. I was at a senior meet, and I saw some ladies doing it, and it didn’t look like they were going very high. I always like challenges, and I said, “Boy, this looks like a real good challenge for me.” That’s why I took it up. It’s the most difficult sport, and it’s also the most challenging. It’s the most rewarding, I think.
Believe it or not, in the (women’s) 75-and-over (group) I have the world record. I have that under my belt, and that is a fantastic feeling. The height was 6’3″ and a quarter, but I’ve done 6’8″ before. Not too bad.
CNN: That must take a lot of upper-body strength.
Meiler: It’s mostly upper core. You have to have a strong upper core and very strong arms, because all the strength is in your arms and the upper part of your body.
CNN: What’s your training schedule like?
Meiler: On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I do a lot of track. Some days, we will do 25-meter sprints; then we will increase to 50 meters. Then, we’ll go up to 100 meters several times. Then we might do a few 200-meter runs. We change our training day-to-day. On Wednesday, we might practice our hurdles.
Barb doesn’t do a lot of the throwing events, and I do, so on some other days, I’ll do the shot put. Like this morning, I did my javelin few times, and then I did my hammer. And I only took up hammer maybe four years ago, but I really enjoy it. And then my discus — I really enjoy discus, too.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll do weights with the machines. And I play tennis also. And do some pushups at home — they’re the women’s pushups, not the men’s pushups.
It takes a lot of training. You have to be very, very devoted.
CNN: What’s the hardest part about keeping up with it?
Meiler: In the wintertime, when it’s about 10 degrees outside, and you’re underneath the covers, and you say, “Oh, I’d love to sleep in for another couple hours.” But I know that my training partner is waiting … and I can’t not go. I have to be there.
We’re very fortunate that we can train together. I always recommend that if someone wants to take up new sport or any other activity, they should do it with a friend, because it is so much more enjoyable because you help each other. You encourage each other.
CNN: Are there any events you don’t particularly like?
Meiler: I’m not too keen on doing the 100- and 200-meter runs … but I do them all! Sometimes, I do the pentathlon, and that’s (five) events. You have to do that in two days. That’s quite hectic.
Barbara and I and two other girls from the U.S. at the 2012 world meet in Sacramento, we set a world record in the 4×100 relay, so that was quite an accomplishment.
CNN: You have so many. What’s your favorite record?
Meiler: I really enjoyed getting the world record in the 60-meter hurdles in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was an indoor meet. I barely beat my training partner (laughs). We were neck and neck.
CNN: What is your diet like? What do you eat to stay healthy and active?
Meiler: I take a healthy nutrition shake every morning. It’s made with orange juice, and it’s got all good nutrients in it. And then I just eat a regular lunch and dinner. I eat almost anything, and I do cheat once in a while. I do like those French fries once in a while (laughs). I have a downfall for chocolate-covered almonds.
I watch my weight. When I gain 2½ pounds, and I can tell on me right away, and I don’t feel comfortable.
CNN: What advice would you give to other seniors out there who might want to try something new?
Meiler: I keep telling them that it’s never too late. If I can take up track and field at 60, anybody can take up another sport at age 50 and up. I recommend anyone who really looks at wanting to be healthy, they have to get going, get off the couch.
One of the recommendations I have been mentioning is go to their senior center. My friends go for yoga, and there are a lot of other things they offer. If they really want to improve or do something more athletic, the center will have the resources to help them find what they should do and how safe it can be.
CNN: Speaking of safety, have you ever been injured on the field?
Meiler: Oh, I’ve had a few injuries. I’ve had a few hamstring pulls. But with a couple visits to the physical therapist, I heal very quickly. I think it’s because I’m in such good physical condition.
The more severe one I got was splitting my knee open on the barrier when I was doing the steeplechase. I got maybe a dozen stitches there. But I healed up within a couple weeks, and I was right back doing the same thing. You’re a little hesitant, though, after you get 12 stitches. You say, “Uh oh, you better be careful.”