SOUTH BURLINGTON – Flo Meiler was worried she wouldn’t be able to successfully pole vault with our cameras rolling, even telling us not to air a failed attempt. But that wasn’t a problem.
We were at the South Burlington High School track and it was a beautiful late summer day.
Meiler took a deep breath, cocked the pole back, and started running towards the pit. “4, 3, 2, jump,” she said, as she flung herself over the bar on her first try. “Perfect! Did you get it?”
Now she wanted to make sure that clip got to air. The adrenaline started pumping. “You want another one?” she said, as she walked back toward her starting position.
“People look at me [and] they think I’m a little cuckoo, I think,” said the 89-year-old Meiler. “I’ve had a lot of students come up to me and say, ‘What an inspiration you are to us!’”
Meiler is a natural athlete. She spent much of her life playing tennis and water skiing, among other sports, but then, track and field came calling.
“I didn’t start pole-vault until I was 65, so I guess that makes a record for me.”
She’s being modest. Meiler holds countless records and has medals to go alongside them as an athlete in the Vermont Senior Games. Although, countless might be the wrong word.
“I have over 1,040 [medals in total],” she said. “Well, it doesn’t take long to add up, like when you go to one meet and I bring back 10 golds and two silvers.”
The medals are displayed like windchimes all over her waterfront home in Shelburne, VT. Walking through her home are also plenty of pictures, framed newspaper articles, and awards. Her career has been carefully documented by her husband Gene.
“He’s my biggest supporter,” Meiler said, of her husband.”I mean he’s the one that writes everything down for all my different events.”
But as much as Meiler loves the hardware she’s collected, it’s just an added bonus. “The medals are not the most important. It’s keeping active and showing other seniors that it’s never too late,” she said.
“A lot of seniors sometimes do not feel like they should join because it’s too competitive. But the Vermont Senior Games has over 25 different activities and now we even have a walking program. Anyone can do a walking program.”
Meiler, though, craves the competition. She loves proving to herself that she can do anything she sets out to do. This summer, that meant competing in the 2023 Track and Field Outdoor National Championships in North Carolina; where she set her favorite record yet.
“I got this one little medal for being the first 89-year-old to do the decathlon.”
That’s right, she’s the first American woman of her age to complete the 100-meter, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter, 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500-meter, all in just two days.
“The 1500 was the last, and that was brutal,” she said. “I knew I could do it, but I did it at a slower pace than I wanted because it was 86 degrees, and I’m used to Vermont’s 75 degrees.”
Vermont Senior Games Vice President Maggies Leugers had no doubt their star athlete couldn’t finish what’s widely known as the hardest experience on the track. “I just never thought that she couldn’t do it. It didn’t even dawn on me to say ‘Why are you doing that?’ I just thought, ‘Wow, good for you.'” said said. “She’s a mentor for me and she’s my hero too.”
Meiler competes in the 85-89 age group right now, so when she turns 90 next June, she’ll graduate to an older group and get the chance to set even more records.
Past that? It seems there’s no slowing her down.
“Why not?” said Meiler. “I mean, if the good lord gave me my health and my talent, I think I should pursue as long as I can.”