Such Great Heights: 84-Year-Old Pole Vaulter Keeps Raising The Bar

Flo Filion Meiler, 84, during pole vault training last month. She mostly works out alone, but has a coach to help refine her technique in events like shot put and high jump.

Lisa Rathke/AP

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Lisa Rathke/AP

Flo Filion Meiler is a world-class athlete who lives in Shelburne, Vt. At the indoor World Masters Athletics Championships in Poland last week, Meiler, who is 84, racked up medal after medal in her age division.

Golds in high jump, pentathlon, 60-meter hurdles, and pole vault. Silvers in long jump and triple jump. Oh, and another gold in the 4×200 relay. “The four of us ladies in our 80s set a new world record,” she told NPR this week.

But wait — the pole vault?

Indeed. Meiler took up track and field at age 60, and as she watched the pole vaulting competition at the Senior Olympics, she had a notion.

“They weren’t pole vaulting very high,” she remembers. “And I said to myself, you know, I think that I could do better than that.

So at a sprightly 65, she took up the event. “I love challenges, and the pole vault is a challenge. You have to have a really strong upper body, upper core and very strong arms.”

No problem for Meiler, who was competitive slalom water-skier for 30 years. “I think that’s why I’ve done so well in it, is because of the way I’ve always handled my body.”

At last week’s world championships, she was the only pole vaulter in her age division, though there were a few men in the 80-84 field. Meiler notes that she was far from the oldest athlete taking part in the meet. “There was a lady from India who was 103. … She didn’t run very fast, but she did it!”

All that winning takes a lot of training, and Meiler keeps a rigorous schedule. She says no longer has time to ski, as she devotes herself five to six days a week to her workouts.

“On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I will do track events. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will do machine weights. Then I will play doubles tennis, but that’s just social tennis.”

She mostly trains alone, but she has a coach at the University of Vermont to help her get competition-ready. “I have her help me, let’s say, with my shot put. And I have her help me doing the high jump and so forth.”

A year ago, she started having hamstring problems and knew it was due to getting older. So she doubled the time she devotes to stretching and warming up. “It makes a world of difference in not being injured,” she says.

The competition may be thinning, but Meiler doesn’t see retirement anytime soon.

“You know, if the good Lord gives me my health, I’m going to keep going forever.”

Right now she’s focused on the upcoming Senior Olympics in Albuquerque, N.M., and she’s eagerly anticipating her birthday in June – an occasion that will shift her into the next age bracket.

“I’m looking forward to being 85,” Meiler says, “because then I’ll be at the bottom of the ladder, and I’m going to look at all these records and see what I can do about ’em.”

NPR’s Sarah Handel and Art Silverman produced the audio version of this story.

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In Ukraine, Presidential Candidates Trade High-Stakes Challenges

Ukrainian presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko takes a televised blood test.

Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Ukraine’s presidential election – which was already high-drama — has taken an unusual turn. The two remaining candidates took highly public alcohol and drug tests on Friday, as part of an escalating series of challenges delivered on social media.

The runoff election on April 21 pits incumbent President Petro Poroshenko against Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian who plays a president on TV. Zelenskiy came out of the first round of election with 30 percent of the vote – nearly double the number of votes cast for Poroshenko.

“I took a blood test. They pumped all sorts of blood out of me. But thank God, I have enough of it. Young blood,” Zelenskiy told reporters, as Reuters reported.

The incumbent leader has been pushing his rival, who has no political experience, to participate in a public debate. Zelenskiy had the issued the drug test demand to Poroshenko after he accepted Poroshenko’s challenge to debate, as Reuters reported.

And he further upped the stakes – in a slickly produced video, the comedian strode in slow motion onto the field of Ukraine’s largest sports arena, Kiev Olimpiyskiy Stadium.

It’s the president Vs the comedian in Ukraine. The two candidates have called each other out on social media, and are now due to square off at the Olympic stadium.

— BBC Monitoring (@BBCMonitoring) April 4, 2019

“The debate will take place before the Ukrainian people,” he said, challenging the leader to take him on at the stadium, not a TV studio. “I give you 24 hours. Think,” the comedian added, according to a BBC translation.

It’s a challenge that Poroshenko accepted in his own video, though he criticized the “uncertainty” involved. “This is no joke. Being president and commander-in-chief is not a game,” he said.

On Friday, Poroshenko took his drug test at the stadium. “Poroshenko challenged Zelenskiy to take the test at the sports arena along with him, but Zelenskiy said he doesn’t trust that lab and took his test at another one,” The Associated Press reported.

Вважаю, що процедура проведення аналізів взагалі має бути обов’язковою, тому що питання відсутності алко- та наркозалежності у кандидата у Президенти – це питання національної безпеки.

— Петро Порошенко (@poroshenko) April 5, 2019

In a tweet after he had blood drawn, Poroshenko said he thinks these tests should be required, “because the question of absence of addictions to alcohol and drugs in a candidate for President – is a question of national security.”

According to the Interfax Ukraine news agency, narcotics were not found in either candidate’s blood.

In the first round of the elections, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko came in third place. Zelenskiy requested that she moderate their debate, which Poroshenko roundly rejected.

“Debates are not a show. I believe that such disparaging and frivolous treatment is disrespect for the politician, Yulia Tymoshenko,” the incumbent added, according to Interfax Ukraine.

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who led the first round of presidential polls, took a blood test in a private clinic in Kiev on Friday.

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Some observers, such as BBC Kiev correspondent Jonah Fisher, see the back-and-forth as a miscalculation by Zelenskiy:

“Mr Poroshenko has nothing to lose and would dearly love to lock horns with the inexperienced Mr Zelensky. Perhaps it’s the only way he might turn things around. …

“This ‘stadium debate’ affair may turn out to be simply a disastrous episode on Mr Zelensky’s path to the presidency.”

Throughout the campaign, the actor has appeared to draw support from a large cross section of the population. Zelenskiy adviser Dmytro Razumkov recently told NPR’s Lucian Kim that he, “already popular among young people, has widened his electoral base to include older generations and has evenly balanced support among Ukrainian- and Russian-speaking voters.”

His appeal, Kim reports, “doesn’t lie in any specifics of his platform but in the mere fact that he is a fresh face with no political baggage from the past.”

Poroshenko was elected in 2014 vowing to fight corruption, but Kim adds that goal is “still out of reach.”

A major issue in this electoral race is the country’s relationship with Russia, which annexed the area of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. As Kim notes, Poroshenko’s campaign is pushing the idea that “he is the only candidate who can stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

And, he’s hoping to have multiple debates to make his case. As Interfax Ukraine reports, Poroshenko’s campaign is arguing that there should be two rounds of debates – one in a stadium, and one in a TV studio.

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Jobs Friday: Chillaxing Edition

jobs friday

Happy Jobs Friday! Employers added 196,000 jobs to the economy in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The unemployment rate is 3.8%, and wages grew by 3.2% since last March.

Plus, middle and high-wage industries have faster jobs growth than low-wage ones, but low-wage industries are seeing faster wage growth.

All of this is a reminder that the economy is continuing to grow — even if the rate of that growth is slowing. That’s good…right?

Music: “Daisy Chain”.

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