National Senior Games Pole Vaulter Breaks the Mold July 18, 2019 16:55

Senior Fitness  For retired high school and middle school physical education teacher Joe Johnston, the games are a chance for him to compete in his favorite sport, pole vaulting.

Johnston, 75, of Apopka, Fla., learned how to pole vault as a teenager and never gave it up.

“My dad, when I was in my 40s and had a job and kids, he was like, ‘When are you going to quit doing that?’”

Johnston pole vaulted at the schools where he taught. After retiring, he built a jumping venue in a pole barn in his backyard. His grandkids call it the Joe Dome. Johnston calls himself “Jumpin’ Joe.” It’s part of his email address.

He even taught his wife, Janet, to pole vault. She’s 68 and also pole vaults at the National Senior Games, although she does not call herself “Jumpin’ Janet.”

Johnston said the fitness he’s maintained through pole vaulting is “my secret to a healthy lifestyle.”

Can’t Means Don’t

He said keeping active is what he preached to his students when he was a P.E. teacher and it’s the advice he gives his fellow older adults now.

“The reason you can’t do stuff? Do you know why? Because you don’t do it,” Johnston said. “The secret is to keep doing it. Keep on doing it.”

Johnston said he can’t jump nearly as high as he did in his prime, when he could come close to clearing 15 feet. But he keeps at it because pole vaulting is always “unfinished business.”

Pole vaulting always challenges you to do better, according to Johnston, because the competition ends in failure, after you’ve failed to clear the bar three times in a row.

“I’m ever in search for the best and most effective method for getting my butt over the bar,” Johnston said. “It’s you against the bar. It’s you against the sky.”