Listen to Flo’s interview on the Fountain of Youth Podcast.
Flo Meiler is an 88-year-old great-grandmother and arguably the greatest all-around female athlete over the age of 85 that has ever lived. She’s also a pole vaulter, high jumper, hurdler, hammer thrower, long jumper, javelin thrower, steeplechaser, sprinter, and distance runner. She’s nearly unbeatable in her age group and has 35 world records to prove it.
Flo grew up on a dairy farm in Champlain, New York and was always active, if not athletic. She participated in basketball, cheerleading, tap dancing, drama club, and glee club in high school. As an adult, she was an avid tennis player and competitive water skier but never even thought about track and field until she was 60. “My friend, Barbara Jordan, pleaded with me to join the masters track team and compete in the Vermont State Senior Games with her,” she says. “I had no idea that it would change my life.”
The long jump was her first event and the others soon followed. She tried pole vaulting for the first time at age 65. Today, she’s the oldest competitive female pole vaulter in the world and holds the age group world record. “I can’t believe I’m pole vaulting at 88,” she says. “It requires speed, strength, and technique. I love to challenge myself and pole vaulting is the ultimate challenge.”
Flo is proud of her success and wants others to know that it hasn’t come easily. She works out six days a week alternating between days at the track and days in the gym. She usually works out alone but has a coach to help her with technique in the more technical events like javelin, high jump, and pole vault. “It’s not easy but it’s possible for just about anyone,” she says. “I tell everyone, ‘You can do this. You can do whatever you set your mind to, but you must start slow. You have to warm up properly and stretch, stretch, stretch!’”
2022 was an especially good year for Flo. USA Track and Field named her the overall Masters Athlete of the Year, beating out thousands of other competitors, male and female, from age 35 to over 100. All told, she won 18 national titles in 2022 — 8 indoors and 10 outdoors and set multiple American and world records.
Unfortunately, Flo is the exception when it comes to being active. Most 80 year olds get zero physical activity. In fact, 25% of all American adults get no exercise whatsoever. It’s not a coincidence that the number of frail older adults is projected to double by 2040. As we get older, we naturally lose some strength and power and, if we don’t exercise, we lose so much that basic tasks become difficult. When that happens, we become even less active. When we become less active, we become less fit. And when we become less fit, we become far more susceptible to a never-ending series of health issues. It’s a costly, life-stealing cycle of decline.
Flo Meiler and the ever-increasing number of older athletes prove that we don’t have to decline to the extent that we’ve been led to believe is inevitable and unavoidable. We can remain active and vibrant into our 80s, 90s, and even 100s, if we engage in regular physical exercise. “You have to push yourself,” Meiler said. “I love to compete, win, and set records; but what I love the most is motivating others to get off the couch. I want to do anything I can to influence people to exercise. I want to be an inspiration.”
This article is featured in the Spring 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.