Archive for Sunday, September 19, 2004

Pole vaulter takes aim at national track meet

72-year-old holds two records in event

September 19, 2004


— Pole-vaulting isn't considered a lifetime sport.

But Don Livasy has a different viewpoint -- one from eight to 10 feet in the air.

At age 72, he's still flying over the bar, defying age and eye troubles.

"I know I'm doing a young man's sport in an old man's body," Livasy said. "But I just love pole-vaulting."

While he enjoys watching pole-vaulting, such as last month's Olympic competition in Athens, Greece, nothing is as satisfying to the Kansas City resident as heading up to the Just Vault pole-vault training center near Kearney to get in a little vaulting of his own.

"Don's remarkably physically fit for his age," said Todd Cooper, the Excelsior Springs High School track coach and a former college vaulting All-American who runs the center. "It's a testament to his will. Pole-vaulting is not easy. It's amazing to me."

Achilles heel

Livasy holds the Missouri State Senior Games record for the 65 to 69 age group at 9 feet, and the 70 to 74 age group at 8 feet 6 inches. He cleared 9 feet 6 inches in an indoor meet in 2001.

An Achilles heel injury kept Livasy from defending his pole-vault title this summer. But he's pondering a meet in Topeka this fall that could qualify him for nationals next year.

"I'm sure he could challenge all the national and world records for his age group," said Cooper, who coaches Livasy. "He's capable of doing that."

In June, just before the injury, Cooper watched Livasy clear 10 feet in practice.

The USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field record for his age and the world record are both just a few inches higher.

But even if he doesn't set records, Livasy said, just jumping is enough for him. "I don't jump for height," he said Wednesday as he warmed up at Just Vault. "I'm a technique jumper."

Conference champion

As a boy, Livasy cut willow poles to pole-vault over creeks. He vaulted with bamboo fishing poles at North Kansas City High School, graduating in 1950. Then in college, he cleared 12 feet 6 inches to tie for conference champion at what is now Central Missouri State University.

Livasy taught school for 10 years until an accident cost him the ring finger on his left hand. Then he worked for the state's vocational rehabilitation program until retirement in 1996.

Pole-vaulting was an occasional pastime. But then his son, Colin, 13, was born when Livasy was 59. "I knew that if I was going to be there for this boy and do things with him, I was going to have to stay in shape," he said.

Rare dedication

Livasy also developed eye problems that make it hard for him to adjust to moving objects and bright light. Sports like tennis, another love, were out. Pole-vaulting, though, was doable.

On Wednesday, he jogged and did a body inversion on workout rings to warm up. Then he laced up his spikes, grabbed a 12-foot fiberglass pole and did some practice flips into the pit.

"I've kept the core muscles strong," Livasy said. "That's why I'm still active. It's pretty hard to be a pole-vaulter if you can't get" your rear end over your head.

Speed, strength and timing, he said, "all have to come together when you plant the pole, lean back and go up."

Livasy stared at the pit. Then he sprinted forward, planted the pole and flew skyward, turning over in mid-air to land on his back.

He's got extra-good speed and rare dedication to technique for a senior vaulter, Cooper said. A daring personality helps, too.

Sidewalk runway

Livasy only vaults about once a month, but he trains regularly. His front sidewalk has pole-vault runway markings and he runs on it to practice jump timing. Ropes, weights and technique-building gear fill his basement. A vaulting pit is in the back yard.

Now he's battling back against injury. But he's had worse, like a torn bicep. Age works against him, Livasy admitted.

He hasn't ruled out going for a national title again, perhaps in 2007 when he's 75 and in a new age bracket. "But who cares," Livasy said. "I just enjoy vaulting and working out. I can't think of anything else that would have kept me in this kind of shape, and that's what's important to me."

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