John Clark and friends at Mac Vault Academy

That’s me with two of my pole vaulting buddies, Bubba in the middle and Don on the right.

Actually, they’re more than pole vault buddies … Don was one grade in front of me in high school, and Bubba was a few years ahead of that. We all played Little League at the same club and went our separate ways after high school, then fate or the Universe or God or something stepped in and we became friends again in our 60s.

Here’s the story:

My 60th birthday was a bit of a shock for me. OK, it was a big shock.

Other milestone birthdays — 30, 40, 50 — never bothered me, the way they do some people. But when the big 6-0 hit … I never imagined how much it would affect me. Like I wrote in my book, “Finally Fit,” my mother used to take my brother, sister, and I to Sam Rayburn Lake a lot when I was a kid to visit my grandparents, who had a nice little house right on the water. That was on up through my teenage years, and so Paw Paw and Grandma had to have been in their 60s, and they were OLD, man. Grandparents!

Now, all of a sudden, I’m an old people, too???

Good grief …

On top of being old, I was fat, depressed, working a soul-killing job, drinking too much to try and forget about how miserable I was. Then one day, I somehow saw a Facebook post from Bubba. I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of this guy since I was in junior high school (the school we went to was a combined junior-senior high), but I remembered him. Bubba was one of those kids everyone knew. The post was him talking about winning a world championship in Masters pole vault, of all things — at age 64!!!


Masters track and field, it turns out, has all kinds of events and competitions for people age 35 and older. I thought back to my junior high track days and wondered if I might be able to join this old folks’ track club. I was a pretty good hurdler and sprinter back in the day. Maybe I could run the 100-meter dash or something. Sounded like fun.

So I sent Bubba a message and he remembered me — or pretended to — and hit me right back. For some reason, I asked him if he thought it would be crazy for me to try pole vault, given my age, physical condition, and the fact that I’d never picked up a pole vault pole in my life.

He said, “Hell, no, it’s not crazy. Let’s do it!”

At that time, he was living in California but he put me in touch with a guy named Brian who coached pole vaulters about an hour away from me. Somehow, I got up the nerve to actually go down there one Sunday afternoon for a practice, and the rest is history.

Tune in tomorrow for more …