When Jim Moeller was a boy, a large roll of new carpet arrived at his home in Illinois one afternoon. It came wrapped around a bamboo pole — a pole that was just right for practicing the pole vault. He earnestly took up the sport in junior high, and vaulted to record-setting heights in high school. Then, after a lapse of more than 20 years, he picked up the sport again — at the age of 43.
He now competes in masters’ competitions, coaches in the summer through Fuzion Athletics, Inc., and helps out unofficially at Eagan (Minn.) High School, where his daughter has followed in his footsteps and taken up the sport. The now 50-year-old Moeller talks about his trials and tribulations with pole vaulting.
“You usually think of (pole vaulting) as a high school or college sport, although I know one woman who picked it up at age 40. When I left investment banking, I was three pounds shy of 200 pounds. When I started a consulting business in 2002 (Moeller Ventures, an intellectual property research company for tech companies and IP law firms), I was able to start getting back in shape after getting out of the corporate grind. I did some 10Ks and half marathons, but I got kind of bored, so I started looking for something different. Then, coincidentally, I ran into a group of masters who pole-vaulted and I thought: ‘Why not?’ Today, I’m probably 175 pounds, and my ideal vaulting weight is 170, 165.”
Setting the bar high
“If a school doesn’t have coaches with expertise, the kids struggle. I was pretty good at it right away because we had good coaching. My best ever was 14-9 as a senior in high school. I finished third at state that year, 1981, and I had the highest jump that year of the small schools. I had some attention from colleges, but I didn’t pursue them. College for me wasn’t about pole vaulting; I wanted to get an electrical engineering degree from (the University of) Illinois.”
Back to camp
“I signed up for a summer camp (at age 43) like any high school student. The very first season I pulled a hamstring in my left leg three times. After running road races, you think you’re kind of in good shape, but pole vaulting is a lot of sprinting, a whole bunch of conditioning, and weightlifting, agility and gymnastics.”
“I also had a sort of freak accident that set me back. I broke my collar bone training in my basement in 2011. As a generalization, if you look across the pole vault nationwide, most of the significant injuries occur because of a lack of proper technique or knowledgeable coaching. The accident at the University of Minnesota 11 years ago, where a vaulter by the name of Kevin Dare died, was an exception to that generalization. He was an experienced vaulter and had a horrible accident. As for my injury, it was the result of my own carelessness and complacency. I have a pole vault rope-swing training set up in my basement. I use thick foam pads on my basement concrete floor in case of accident — hands slipping off the rope, etc. I got complacent and trusted the set-up without periodically checking it. As it turned out, the rope was slipping out of the hook that secures it to the ceiling. One day I was demonstrating a drill for my daughter, was carelessly doing this drill without the pads under the rope, the rope completely slipped out and I fell on the back of my right shoulder and broke my collar bone. It was an important and painful reminder that attention to safety detail can’t take a day off. But like any ‘extreme sport’ there is always an injury risk. We just try to do everything we can to reduce that risk.”
Training to defy gravity
“As a self-employed individual, I can manage my own time a little better, and I can work in the variety of training required to pursue this. In a typical week, I do one or two sprint sessions. It’s a really physically demanding, strenuous sport on the body. Flexibility and injury prevention are high on my list. I sprint on grass if I can. And I do weightlifting sessions as well, and gymnastic routines in my basement.”
“Since turning 50 in October, I’d like to get back over 13 feet. That would be a new age group record (in Minnesota, but) I think my perspective on records changes as I get older, and the ‘official’ overall records become less important for me. It’s really more of a personal goal thing. At the master level, if you’re not doing it for your own pure enjoyment and personal challenge, then you’re in the wrong sport.”