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Buda pole vaulter leaps to new world record at 85

Few people can say turning 85 years old could be beneficial for them.

For Buda resident and active pole vaulter Frank Dickey, turning the age Jan. 7 signified moving up into a different age bracket in the World Masters Athletics competition. With the move came different (i.e. lower) records to surpass.

And so on Sunday, roughly 92 days after turning the spry age of 85, Dickey put himself into the history books.

By clearing 7-feet, 6-inches in San Antonio, Dickey broke the outdoor men’s pole vault world record for the 85- to 89-year-old division. His mark surpassed a record that had been in place for more than 20 years.

Dickey vaults over a bar at a recent meet. (photo by Cyndy Slovak-Barton)

It was all the culmination of a three-year quest for an athlete who returned to the sport 60 years after his prime.

“I would say I’m more proud of that than any of the awards I got in high school or college,” Dickey said.

Early success

Dickey’s love affair with pole vaulting began in high school in Missouri. He said watching others participate in the event “looked like so much fun.”

Soon, he entered the sport and began to excel. Dickey’s success eventually drew the eye of the University of Missouri at Columbia, which offered him a scholarship in the sport. 

Success continued into college, where Dickey finished second at the 1954 Texas Relays; he then finished in a tie for first at the 45th Drake Relays with a height of 13-feet, 6-inches.

All of that was done when participating in the pole vault was a dangerous proposition. Participants vaulted into what amounted to a pit of sawdust.

In addition, the poles they used at the time were steel and didn’t have the bend and give of today’s fiberglass poles.

“If you jump 12 and 13 feet, you had a long way to fall,” Dickey said. “You don’t fall on a three-foot high pad. You fell on your feet, but you tried to fall to the side.”

While at Missouri, Dickey set numerous records and enjoyed a variety of success.

Due to the sport’s demand on his body, however, Dickey chose not to pole vault after college. 

For the next 63 years, Dickey lived his life and didn’t see the runway again.

Getting back on the horse

Three years ago, Dickey, who was 82 at the time, got himself back into the sport. It was done as a way for him to be active after the passing of his wife.

With the help of Lone Star Pole Vault in New Braunfels, Dickey reintroduced himself to the runway.

Dickey, kneeling, works with a certified U.S. Track and Field representative on the necessary paperwork to take the lead record in the world. The accomplishment had to be witnessed by three certified USATF representatives, measured with a steel tape measure, and performed on an outdoor track without inclination. (photo by Cyndy Slovak-Barton)

But the journey back was harder than expected, Dickey said.

One key factor was reintroducing his body to being athletic after a 60-plus year hiatus.

“I did not run much. It was almost as if I was having to learn how to run again,” Dickey said. “Speed in vaulting is very important. I didn’t have that speed (at the time). I shuffled down the runway.”

He also had to get used to fiberglass poles, as well as nuances and updates to the sport over the past 60 years. 

It didn’t take long for Dickey to find his stride. By 2016, Dickey was ranked third in the world in indoor pole vault men’s 80-84 division and fifth in the outdoor rankings.

For Dickey, participating in the pole vault has been a “journey in health.” Having dealt with some back and leg problems, Dickey said pole vaulting has “almost eliminated those issues.”

“You wouldn’t think that’s the case, but I call the vaulting facility my wellness facility … It’s something that I guess with age, it gets a lot harder. I think the pull of gravity comes on strong as you age.”
Frank Dickey, world-record pole vaulter and Buda resident

The desire to break records soon came into focus. His first goal was to surpass 9-feet, which was the record for the men’s 80 to 84 division.

Expectations led Dickey to surmise he could accomplish the feat last year. However, the stars didn’t quite align for him.

When one door closes, however, another opens. By waiting a year, Dickey got his chance to make history.

But to do so, Dickey had to complete his world record attempt at a sanctioned USA track and field meet. Three officials were required, and the use of steel tape was called for to measure the height of the bar.

Dickey was down to his second to last chance at 7-feet, 6-inches when he finally cleared the mark. It was as if a large weight had been lifted off his chest.

“You plan on it, it doesn’t go, and then there it is,” Dickey said. “What a relief.”

Even with the world record in hand, Dickey doesn’t expect to take it easy any time soon. Improving his mark is the goal as he hopes to set a record that could take another 20-plus years to crack.

Regardless of what transpires, the chance to bring excitement to his family provides ample motivation.

“I’ll continue to break my own record,” Dickey said. “I want to get it high enough, so where someone doesn’t come along right away and break it.”

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