ATASCADERO — At the age of 70, Nels Siverson has earned an easy chair and a good book.

Instead, he’s working as hard as he ever did in his quest for athletic excellence. Case in point: he has attended every All-Comers meet so far this year to pole vault. And he’s not just pole vaulting for fun. He’s trying to meet or beat the world record.

In 2002, Englishman Robert Brown set the record for men aged 70 at 3.31 meters or 10 feet 9 inches.

“I made 10 feet 6 inches tonight,” Siverson said. “I did 10 last week, so it’s pretty pathetic. Still, it’s just for fun.”

Siverson’s worked hard to get this achievement. He weighs less now than he did in college, but he said he’d like to get a little lighter still, the easier to heave himself almost 11 feet into the air on a pole. Besides, keeping his weight down helps him “feel more athletic.” That Siverson seems to think that pole vaulting 10 feet 6 inches, only four inches shy of the world record, at the age of 70 is pathetic, it just goes to show what kind of an attitude he’s got toward sports. You see, in 2009, he was doing some work on his roof and the fumes from the chemicals in use made him pass out. He fell 23 feet to the pavement, where he landed on concrete .

He broke all the ribs on his right side, fractured his hip and turned his scapula into mush. He said it was two months before he was able to try running a little bit. Three years later, he’s trying to match the world record. “I should be crippled or dead,” Siverson said. “I think being in good shape saved me.” But the event got him thinking. He said that he has begun to think about how he’s going to die. “I’ve had a good time. From here on, I want a nice easy out,” he said. He added that he doesn’t want anything to do with long-term care. He wants to leave the world with grace and style quickly. But he’s got time. He said he rides his bike, regularly doing 40- and 70-mile rides, and he mixes it up with rides concentrating on climbs. “I like climbing Old Creek Road,” he said, “but it’s dangerous.” He’s also done a big handful of triathlons and has his sights set on the Morro Bay triathlon . That one appeals to him because one of his favorite sports is paddling, and the Morro Bay triathlon allows folks to substitute paddling for swimming. Thirty years ago, when Siverson was only 40 years old, he was an airline pilot and pentathlete . He decided he’d do some real competing. A friendly guy and an exceptional athlete and he had access to airplanes. So he flew routes that would take him to some of the best trainers for any given sport in the pentathlon.

He laughingly admitted that it’s sort of like cheating, but pointed out that pro athletes get the same treatment, so he never felt too bad about it.

“That was a fun time in my life,” Siverson said. “But 70’s really cool. ‘Seventy’ sounds so much older than 60. Now people expect me to be beat up. ” I’m really lucky. There are days I don’t feel any different than when I was 40.”

And that’s after falling off the roof. So his goal of matching the pole vaulting record seems attainable if not inevitable.

“My last two jumps sucked,” he said. “My steps were off. And I’m still having issues with the old habits of steel-pole jumping. But I think I’ve got a fair chance of making it.”

by: Creig P. Sherburne


Nels Siverson
Nels Siverson

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