Shelburne’s Flo Meiler defies stereotypes. For starters she has set 25 world records, 19 American records, and has won over 750 medals since she began her senior track and field career at age 60. But most impressive of all, the longtime resident, grandmother, and great-grandmother turned 81 in June and just keeps on winning.
Her story may be well known but it bears repeating. “I was competing in tennis with my husband, Gene, at the Senior Games when friend and current training partner, Barbara Jordan, asked me to give track and field a try,” she said. “Because the sport desperately needed athletes, I couldn’t say no.”
Within five years she had mastered running, the hammer throw, javelin, and high jump, and was looking for a new challenge. She chose pole vaulting.
Meiler credits her upbringing for her ability to pole vault. “I was raised on a dairy farm in Champlain, N.Y.,” she said. “I worked on a hay wagon and carried my share of milk pails. I also competed in water skiing for over 30 years. That’s where I get my upper body strength.”
As testimony to her abilities she set the pole vault world record of 5’6″ in her age group last summer. “While pole vaulting is my favorite event [second is the hurdles] it is also the most difficult,” she said. “I first learned to pole vault by watching videos which wasn’t the best way to go about it. Thanks to some dedicated coaches from Middlebury and UVM and years of training I am finally rid of those bad habits.”
This summer has been particularly busy. First, there are the eight gold medals she brought home from the Vermont Senior Games in June. Plus the eight medals she added to her collection and National Senior Game records in the triple jump and 4×100 relay from Minneapolis, Minn. in July. And finally she set two more world records, one in the seven-event heptathlon, one in the 4×100 relay, and 10 more medals [five gold, four silver, and one bronze] in the World Masters Athletic Championship in Lyon, France last month.
“The highlight in France was accepting my gold medals on the world stage,” she said. “When I stood on the podium and they played the National Anthem it was all I could do to keep the tears back. While there were a couple of events that I couldn’t even do because of the timing of events and multiple venues. I was really proud of my accomplishments, I worked my tail off.”
Meiler was named the USATF-NE New England athlete of the month for August. Meiler still trains at least five days a week. Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays are for track while Tuesday and Thursdays are dedicated to weights and tennis. “I can’t go more than four days without training. My body craves the exercise,” she said.
“My inspiration is Dottie Gray, a senior athlete from Missouri who competes in the 90 to 94 age division,” she said. “My goal is to compete in track and field as long as I have my health and the good Lord is willing.”