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Flo Meiler: sprinting away from aging stereotypes

Words // Amanda Holman
Photos // Rob Jerome

Flo Meiler is a track and field superstar. She has set over 15 world records and 12 U.S. records in different events from pole vault to high jump to weight throw, and all within the last 20 years. If this were not cause enough for admiration, it’s important to mention that Meiler is 80 years old. Most recently, she set new records in pole vault, high jump, and weight throw for the 80-84 age group at the Dartmouth Relays in January.

Even more amazingly, Meiler did not begin to participate in track and field until the early 1990s when she turned 60. However, her athletic tendencies began back when she was in high school, where she participated in cheerleading and basketball. After graduating, she competed in waterskiing competitions, both slalom and trick skiing. She taught her husband, Gene Meiler, to waterski, afterwhich they competed together. They continued to remain active, taking up downhill skiing and then as their children began to grow, learning to play tennis with the whole family. Naturally, Flo and Gene became competitive tennis players.

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It was a tennis competition that eventually led Meiler to pursue a track and field career. In 1990, while the Meilers were competing at Middlebury College to qualify for that year’s Senior Olympics, Barbara Jordan, another Vermonter, approached Meiler and asked her to try the long jump. “I went and tried [it] and fell in love with it immediately,” Meiler stated. “Within two years I was doing six track and field events, then eight and now if I consider pentathelons and heptathelons, it amounts up to almost 18 events, though not at one time.” Meiler considers Jordan her greatest inspiration for the sport. The two have been training partners, competitors, and friends for the past 20 years.

Though Jordan is her biggest inspiration, one of Meiler’s biggest motivators is her health. “Oh, I’m hardly ever sick,” she stated. The results of her athleticism are clear, as even her walking pace is one of a person half her age. Health and wellbeing have always been important to Meiler. She spent 27 years actively volunteering for the Vermont chapter of the American Heart Association; she helped to organize and manage a door-to-door campaign for several years to help raise money for open-heart surgery research. Today, she still tries to motivate people to be healthier. “My favorite part [of competing and participating in track and field] is when people come up to me and say, ‘You’ve been such an inspiration for me to get going again, to get active again,’ that really gives me the goosebumps. I feel so good that I’m helping people to get healthy.”

Meiler trains four to five days a week in the winter and up to six days in the summer. She says that she could not be successful without the help and guidance of her coaches. Greg Wisser, Bill Nedde, and Kurt Fischer, all from Vermont, help her with the different events in which she competes. Their suggestions, lists, and motivation styles are what stimulate Meiler to keep competing and improving.

Meiler lives in Shelburne, and when she is not competing or training, she enjoys salsa dancing with her husband. “I also need my afternoon nap after every workout,” she stated laughing. She is currently training for the USA Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships, which will take place March 20-22. She hopes to set a new record for hurtles. Meiler constantly strives to challenge herself in every field, not just the track. “I’m not one to give up,” she declared. It will be interesting to see what she conquers next.