Joe and Janet Johnston recently completed what may be the world’s most unusual home addition for a couple in their 70s — OK, for any couple of any age.
The Johnstons, both retired teachers living on a fixed income, added a 5,000-square foot pole vaulting room onto their 1,800-square foot home.
It’s a serious upgrade from the covered pit, dubbed the “Joe Dome,” that sits in their side yard. The initial plan was to tear down the Joe Dome and replace it with a pole-vaulting building on the same footprint. But the county code would allow only an additional 1,000 square foot building on their property.
The Johnstons were advised that a variance request would be a waste of time and waste of the $650 dollar hearing fee. Undaunted, they paid the fee and Joe made his plea. He also asked a few friends to attend the hearing and speak to the value that the Johnstons have brought to young athletes over years, by offering free pit time and coaching to anyone wanting to learn or improve.
“They made it sound like I was Mother Theresa trying to build a church,” Joe recalled.
As expected, the zoning board denied the Johnstons’ request. But with a wink and an obvious desire to help these good people continue their good deeds, they informed Joe that he could expand the house by 5,000 square feet. In other words, call the building a room, attach it to their house and let the pole vaulting begin.
And that’s exactly what Joe did. He spent two years building a 5,000 square-foot pole vaulting room, with a 100-foot runway and a 17-foot ceiling. How many people told him he was crazy?
“I don’t keep a record of that,” he said.
The Johnstons definitely aren’t crazy, but both will plead guilty to being passionately optimistic.
“We’re at the age that we’ve got more behind us than ahead of us,” 77-year-old Joe said. “So, I do a lot of reflecting. It may be an affliction, this optimistic thing, but it has served me well. I don’t pay attention to the notion that we’re supposed to be taking it easy and declining by the day. I’ve been flat on my face before and got back up. I reckon I can do it again. My go-to answer to any malady or problem is always movement. Just get up and keep moving, and that’s what I plan on doing.”
Janet shares the same glass-half-full view.
“You can choose to look at everything in a positive light or not,” she observed. “Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.’ I think that’s true. We just make up our minds to be happy, and we are.”
There is one big change for Janet, who can no longer look out of her kitchen window into a large tree-covered backyard. Always looking for the bright side, she said, “Now I can fold clothes and watch Joe pole vault.”
And she doesn’t just watch. Janet, 74, is also a pole vaulter. She doesn’t have quite the competitive resume of Joe, who is a multiple-age group, world-record holder. But she did take home a gold medal at the World Masters Championships in Sacramento a few years back.
“I like the confidence that comes from learning a new skill,” she said. “If you’re willing to stretch yourself, you can learn a lot more than you think. Right now, I’m learning to swim the butterfly.”
If you think Joe and Janet are wealthy, think again. They’re retired teachers living on a fixed income.
“I’m a filthy rich man, but I ain’t got much money.” Joe explained. “I have wonderful things in my life that I deeply appreciate, and that makes me rich. I stumbled onto my soulmate many years ago and somehow managed to marry her. She thinks I’m everything that I aspire to be.”
What he aspires to be on a daily basis is active. Joe is up by 6 a.m. most mornings; and if he’s not in the pole-vaulting room, you can find him climbing the rafters and swinging from ropes in the old Joe Dome, which still stands in the side yard.
“It’s now basically a ninja warrior playhouse,” he said.
What 77-year-old doesn’t have one of those?