MIDDLETOWN — “Oh, I had open-heart surgery.”

Hugh Cauthers says this as if it’s an item he mistakenly left off his shopping list. If such a list existed, it would also include triple-bypass surgery and Parkinson’s disease, the former occurring nearly 10 years ago and the latter the most visible indicator of his current physical limitations.

Of the torn mitral valve a few years back that led to the open-heart procedure, Cauthers smiles and says, “That’s kind of a big deal.”

The 71-year-old pole vault coach has handled this past decade of health complications and personal loss with the same equanimity and grace of the champions he develops.

That includes Michelle Kercado, whose athletic ability in the late 1990s was a motivational force behind Cauthers suing the state of New York to allow girls to compete in the pole vault. It also includes Kaeli Thompson, the Warwick senior vaulter and Duke commit who is currently wrapping up her high-flying high school career in North Carolina, competing for a national championship.

“I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for him,” Thompson said.

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