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Captivan wins three medals at Senior Olympic Games

By Staff | Sep 1, 2009

Part-time Captiva resident Howard Booth recently won three medals at the 2009 Senior Olympics, held from Aug. 5-10 on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

“There were over 10,000 athletes at the National Senior Olympic Games. Track and field of course is the biggest, but they have all sorts of other things like swimming and tennis. All kinds of sports,” Booth said.

When Booth isn’t staying in his Captiva home, he resides in Gregory, Mich. where he’s been a professor of Biology at Eastern Michigan University for the past 42 years.

According to Booth, participants must be 50 years or older to participate in the Senior Olympics. But Booth isn’t shy about people asking him his age.

“We’re very accustomed to that. In fact, we’re a bit proud of it,” Booth chuckled, stating that he is 66 years old.

Five years ago, Booth said he was a regular distance runner and had been running 5Ks and marathons for many years, when a buddy from his collegiate gymnastic days said he was playing golf in the Michigan Senior Olympics.

“He said I ought to try running,” Booth said. “I was looking through the results from the previous years and I saw pole vaulting, and I’d done that in high school and college but didn’t do it again for 40 years, so I thought, ‘I wonder if I can still do that.’ So I tried it out and my first meet in Michigan I set a new age group record.”

The record was formerly 8 feet, 6 inches and Booth pushed it up to 8 feet, 10 inches.

“I was hooked. Then I really started seriously working out and conditioning for pole vaulting and have since moved into a new age group and moved the Michigan record up to 10’6,” he said.

Since his reintroduction to pole vaulting, Booth has regularly competed at the national level for both USA Track and Field and the Senior Olympics.

“I probably do 10 indoor meets and another 10 or 12 outdoor meets each year,” Booth said.

Booth’s most recent championship was at the National Senior Olympics in Palo Alto, Calif. where he won three medals – a gold, a silver and a bronze.

“I beat the current world record holder to get the gold medal. I was having a good day – he wasn’t,” Booth said with a modest chuckle. “I also got a bronze medal in the long jump and the silver medal in the 4 x 100 meter sprint relay.”

As a track and field-oriented athlete for most of his life, Booth said it wasn’t a far stretch for him to get back into top pole vaulting form.

“I was quite successful in high school and had the conference record. I became a gymnast in college and so that kind of conflicted with my track and field, so I only competed two years in outdoor track and field because it overlapped with the gymnastics, and I was a moderately successful collegiate vaulter,” he continued.

Booth noted that his gymnastics training methods helped to keep him in top form when it came to getting back into the pole vaulting scene.

“When I decided to try pole vaulting again, I already had the core and upper-body strength and it was just a matter of ‘do my muscles remember how to do that?'”

Since then, Booth said that he’s gone through a major relearning process.

“When I was vaulting, we used steel or aluminum poles and, of course, now you use fiberglass. Learning to put the power into the pole, bend the pole, it really changes the game,” he added. “So I kept working on that for five years and I’m nowhere near mastering it, but I’m obviously having success with it.”

Booth acknowledges the incredible amount of training that goes into becoming a successful – and in his case, gold medal-winning – pole vaulter.

“You really have to work at learning to put all of these little pieces together. Natural talent doesn’t take you as far as actually working at it,” he said.

Booth travels across the country to various track and field events and says that, aside from the Senior Olympics and USA Track and Field, he loves street vaulting.

“One of the really interesting things about pole vaulting is that because it is so technical and so specialized, it really cuts across the age groups,” he adeed. “We’ll have street vaults or the Grand Haven Beach Vault, which is the largest outdoor vaulting event in the country, and we’ll have 300 vaulters there. Seventy percent of them are high school kids and then you get middle-aged and college vaulters, semi-professionals and olympians, and so all age groups are there doing this sport together. It’s a lot of fun.”

So how long can we expect to see this athlete breaking records and winning medals?

“As long as I’m healthy,” he said. “This is definitely my passion. I love my work, but this is what I’m going to do until I can’t do it anymore. Then I’ll move onto something else!”