To paraphrase an old adage, the family that pole vaults together, wins together. And the Winder family certainly does both.

Tim and Margo Winder are parents to a pole vaulting “dynasty” of sorts — all three of their sons have now won Illinois pole vault championships.

Their youngest, Luke, now a senior at Plainfield High School – Central Campus, took first place at the state competition as a junior in May. He cleared 16 feet, 3 inches.

Luke also broke the PHSCC school record of 16 feet, 9 inches, set by his middle brother, Joshua — who also won the state pole vault title as a junior at PHSCC in 2008. Joshua also vaulted 16 feet, nine inches at state.
Their oldest brother, Jacob, won the state pole vault title in 2005 as a junior at Plainfield South High School with a vault of 15 feet, 6 inches according to school records.
Of course, none of the Winder boys may have ever wandered out to the pole vault pit if not for their father, Tim, who also won the Illinois state pole vault championship in 1979. Remarkably, Tim’s hometown high school in Woodlawn, Illinois was so small it didn’t even have a track. He had to train at a school in a neighboring community.

In turn, Tim learned the sport from his own father while growing up in southern Illinois. He has been vaulting almost daily since he was 10 years old. Now a middle school teacher in Naperville District 203, Tim has coached pole vaulting for 27 years, including the last 20 at North Central College in Naperville.

Luke certainly shares his dad’s passion for vaulting.

The new high school senior said he always wanted to pole vault. Though he dabbled in several other sports in middle school and is a strong all-around athlete, he never seriously considered playing another sport.

“My dad has always coached (pole vaulting), I grew up around it. Me and my brothers always did it together,” Luke said.

Pole vaulting is an exceptionally difficult sport requiring physical strength, precision technique, and intelligence (knowing the “physics” of different poles and how conditions can affect the vault). And, of course, courage — especially when a vault fails, as can happens. “Sometimes you do come down on the wrong side,” Tim said.

“My dad always taught that technique precedes height,” Luke said, emphasizing that he never sets a specific target for his vaults, but rather tries to do his best no matter the height. “It looks pretty, but vaulting is very hard. You have to really work at it,” he said.

That work often leads to Luke sacrificing many of the social aspects of a traditional teen lifestyle.

Luke has a daily training regimen that would put most non-athletes (and even a few athletes) to shame: several hours of exercise in the gym, then running the stairs at Joliet Memorial Stadium, then back to the gym, then coaching at his dad’s pole vault camp at North Central College.

Luke’s routine has led to some tough moments when his friends want to do things like playing golf without a golf cart or going to Great America when he has meets coming up. Such activities involve a lot of walking which can be bad for his feet and legs. “It’s a matter of making a choice between doing this and doing something else,” he said.

So far, Luke’s choices, like those of his brothers and father, have paid off. He will compete in June at the United States Track and Field Junior Nationals in DesMoines, Iowa against some of the best pole vaulters nationwide. The competition is for athletes 19 and younger, including college athletes.

Of course, the Olympics are always a dream, Luke said, but his goal this year is to be the best he can be with the 16-foot pole. Most high school pole vaulters use a 14-foot pole. Luke graduated this year to a 15 foot, six inch pole, and wants to take the next step. (Longer poles mean higher vaults, but are harder to master.)

One constant in the Winder family, no matter who is competing, is the boys’ mother, Margo. She learned to love pole vaulting when she met Tim in college.

“There’s always a lot of packing up and going to see the boys compete,” she said, smiling. She supports all of her boys’ endeavors and her constant smile while talking about her sons is proof of her pride. Yet Margo said neither she nor Tim ever pushed any of the boys to pole vaulting.

“I am most proud of Luke for his great sense of humor. He makes me laugh all the time and is very considerate, but what I admire the most is that he’s a strong Christian, and that’s not easy for kids in high school,” she said, adding that she also likes Luke’s tenacity and perseverance.

Good thing, because it’s clear Luke Winder won’t be leaving the pole vault pit any time soon.

“I couldn’t imagine doing any other sport,” he said.


Winder Vaulter Magazine
Winder Vaulter Magazine

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