Fred Zapf’s reasoning for taking up the sport of pole vaulting is relatively simple.
“I couldn’t high jump,” said Zapf, an Issaquah resident. “I’m 8 years old, all the kids in the neighborhood are high jumping in someone’s backyard and I couldn’t do it. So they gave me a stick and I cleared the bar. I’ve been vaulting since.”
Zapf’s approach run may have lost some speed over the last 65 years, but the enthusiasm and dedication to the craft remain as strong as ever for the 73-year-old.
More than 2,000 athletes ranging in age from 50 to 95 competed Saturday in the 18th Annual Washington State Senior Games. The bulk of that number could be found at the track and field events at Tumwater District Stadium where Zapf’s height of 8 feet was tops among pole vaulters in the 70-74 age group.
“I’m still re-learning the sport,” said Zapf, who finished sixth at the 2013 National Senior Games. “I was away from it for a while.”
It was nearly 45 years between vaults for Zapf, who returned to the event six years ago.
“I pole vaulted as a youth, and in high school and college,” said Zapf, who once cleared 13 feet, 6 inches while a member of the Ohio State University track and field team, “but I hadn’t tried it since I was 22. A friend at work reintroduced me to it.”
Fiber glass poles have since replaced the steel ones Zapf used when he first participated, and the overall technique used to the clear the bar has changed as well.
“If we had those fiber glass poles back then you could have added four feet to your height,” Zapf said. “The biggest thing is the getting over the bar. You used to have to push while muscling yourself over. Now you have to swing yourself over. I’m picking it up though.”
Zapf wasn’t the only athlete competing after taking a big break from the sport. Dick Clintworth went 25 years between vaults.
Clintoworth, who captured the 65-69 age group clearing 9-0, was a former record holder at both Olympia High School and Central Washington University, where he posted a career-best collegiate mark of 14-103/4.
“Old habits die hard,” said Clintworth, a 2006 inductee into the Central Washington University hall of fame. “In the early 90s I went and watched a friend of mine compete at the Senior Games. I was determined to get back out there and told him the next year I’d participate. So I put together a training schedule.”
Clintworth’s commitment included installing a pole vault pit in his backyard.
“I used to only pole vault,” Clintworth said. “Then I added long jump, then high jump. Suddenly I started doing the decathlon and needed to learn how to throw. I just kept adding events.”
The Washington Senior Games consists of 23 events.
In addition to Washington, the games had participants from Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii, California and British Columbia.
Winners in this year’s track and field events qualify for the 2015 National Senior Games, which will be held July 3-16, 2015 in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Olympia’s Karen Steen, who won a record seven Capital City Marathons between 1996 and 2005, including four consecutive wins (2002-2005), captured the women’s 5K in the 50-54 age group with a time of 21 minutes, 54.1 seconds.
Fellow Olympia residents Tobey Anderson (31:48.6) and Kathleen Winterstein (28:31.2) won the 5K in the women’s 60-64 and 65-69 divisions, respectively, while Olympia’s David Richard (60-64), Craig Anderson (65-69) and Norman Anderson (70-74) took home the gold in the men’s 5K.
William Bruner was a dual champion — winning the 5K race walk and 1500 in the men’s 70-74 age group.
Additional local winners included Karen Schoessel (women’s 10K, 60-64), Francia Reynolds (women’s 200, 65-69), Williams Won (men’s 200, 50-54), Louise Mihay (women’s 800, 70-74), and Noreen Dietrich (women’s 50, 55-59).
The Senior Games continue today with cycling (Evergreen Sportsmen’s Club), cowboy action shooting (Capitol City Rifle and Pistol Club), pickleball (Lakewood Community Center), volleyball (Olympia High School), swimming (Briggs Community YMCA), tennis (The Valley Athletic Club), table tennis (Capitol City Tennis and Athletic Club) and bowling (Westside Lanes).