Pole vaulter defies gravity, age

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ENCINITAS, Calif. – When this Del Mar resident sets her mind to something, she does it, and does it all out. The 70-year-old has set four age group world records in the pole vault.

“I’m very determined,” Nadine O’Connor said. ” I have always been goal-oriented. When I have a goal, that keeps me fit. I know I have to be fit to do this. I have to have a very strong upper body. You don’t want to meet me in a dark alley.”

O’Connor’s determination and toughness has helped her set the bar pretty high for a senior athlete. Her most recent record came on April 17, a little over a month after her 70th birthday, when she reached 2.8 meters to set the 70-74 age group record.

A late starter, O’Connor said she didn’t pick up the pole vault for the first time until age 59.

“I was terrible. I was a joke,” O’Connor said with a laugh. “I was absolutely horrible but that really makes me mad so I worked really hard.”

To help her improve, O’Connor and her coach and companion Bud Held, bought a piece of property in Encinitas with a backyard large enough for a pole vault pit, so she can practice whenever she wants, for as long as she wants.

“She used to go out there and jump 50 times in one session.  One after another, it was amazing,” Held said.

Held threw the javelin for U.S.A. at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki and he and O’Connor started their relationship more than 20 years ago.

“In the pole vault and in life in general, I have the greatest coach in the world,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor has also set age-group world records in the 100 meters, 200 meters and the decathlon. But now, due to her knees, she limits herself to the pole vault.

The mother of three and grandmother of four said she has no idea how much longer she will continue to vault, but she realizes that every time she competes, she inspires others, and her advice is simple:

“Have a goal and just work towards it,” O’Connor said.

That formula worked well for her.

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