Bob Arledge Is a World Champion Pole Vaulter—and He’s in His 80s

His passion for the sport has lasted a lifetime, and training with high school kids keeps him young.

As a young and curious eighth grade boy, Bob Arledge built his own pole vault pit and pole out of sawdust and bamboo. That’s all it took to spark his passion for the sport, and he practiced it throughout high school and college.

Now, more than a dozen years after retiring, Arledge has returned to the sport to claim the title of Pole Vault World Champion in the 85–89 age group. Last summer, he was inducted into the Ohio Senior Olympics Hall of Fame.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

After I retired from the Air Force, I stopped exercising, and in 10 years I gained 25 pounds. I had a friend who invited me to compete in the Ohio Senior Games and I figured I’d be able to do it, but I failed miserably. After that, I decided to become a competitive pole vaulter again. I’m stronger and faster now than I was 15 years ago.

I got on a mainly Mediterranean diet, which is a lot of fatty fish, no red meat, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and olive oil. I stopped eating a lot of sugar. I started walking and did some swimming, then jogging, and practiced pole vault when I could find a place to practice. I changed my lifestyle from being sedentary to being active.

Usually, I pole vault with high school kids, frequently with high school girls because their heights are lower than the men. It’s been a fun thing to be accepted and be around young kids and work with them.

We have a lot more control over our health than we realize, and just by being active and eating right, you can help yourself a lot. At age 50, we lose almost 1 percent of our muscle mass each year. That can be reversed by weight lifting and exercising.

Pole vault has taught me how to develop good habits and persevere. It’s so easy just to get in a lifestyle where you want to be comfortable and sit and do nothing. You have to get outside of your comfort zone.

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