When I got to the stadium the next day to watch the women’s pole vault, I noticed a commotion along the fence on one side of the track. I stopped and asked somebody what was going on.
Apparently, there was a race about to start. I saw a tiny, very slender woman standing in one of the middle lanes, outfitted in a colorful track uniform and racing bib, a meet official standing next to her. She was stepping back and forth, one foot in front of the other, bouncing up and down a little, loosening up. There was nobody else out there, but her.
I asked someone how old she was, and they said, “Ninety-seven.”
Finally, the starter walked up, blank pistol in hand, took his position, said, “Ready, set …” and boom!
Off she went, moving at a pace not unexpected for someone approaching 100 years old, but with as much focus and determination as any Olympic athlete. I got a lump in my throat watching this woman from Alabama run that 200-meter race, all by herself, in a record-setting time of 2.09.73.
I was writing then for Vaulter magazine and so I had my camera to take pictures of the vaulting. One of the ladies jumping was 80-something-year-old Flo Meiler, who I got to meet and then watch set five consecutive world records. Amazing again!
I’ve met and befriended all kinds of incredible people since I started pole vaulting, and they have all welcomed me with open arms and constant encouragement. It’s the most extraordinary bunch of people.
The day of men’s vaulting, after I got warmed up, caught my breath, and put my knee brace back where it belonged, I headed over to get in line on the runway to do some practice jumps. As I walked up and stood behind the last guy in line, he turned, smiled, and extended his right hand, “Hi, I’m Gary.”
It was Gary Hunter from Indiana, a former college all-American who set world and national records in three different USATF Masters age divisions.
Just like that. No big deal.
“Hi, I’m Gary.”
It was like that everywhere I went.
Today is going to be a great day!