The Octogenarian Olympian
Photography by Wes Battoclette
Robert Arledge will be 82 years old in June, and Robert Arledge is a pole vaulter. You wouldn’t normally think those two things could be said of the same person. But standing by as Arledge rushes past you, pole in hand, a look of fierce resolve on his face, you lose all expectations of what is possible at his age.
Born in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1933, Arledge began pole vaulting in high school.
“I was good enough to letter,” he remembers. Arledge then went to Otterbein College where he finished as high as fourth in the Ohio Athletic Conference. Injuries took two seasons away from him, but on the whole he was “competitive and successful.”
He gave up pole vaulting after college when he entered the United States military. For 30 years he and his wife, Gail, whom he met at Otterbein College in 1951, went wherever the military needed them to go.
“I was fortunate enough to marry a wonderful woman who enjoyed traveling,” says Arledge, whose favorite destination during his military career was a three-year stint in Alaska. “We had three children and lived in 17 homes in 30 years.”
Arledge retired from the military in 1988 as an Air Force colonel, the chief physical therapist for the United States Air Force and associate chief of the Biomedical Science Corps.
“After I retired I immediately gained 20 pounds of weight,” says Arledge with a chuckle. “A friend then told me about the Senior Olympic Games.”
Arledge started training for the pole vaulting category. Initially he wasn’t able to do much in the way of vaulting, but soon he had lost those 20 pounds and was competing just as he had in high school.
Back then, Arledge was able to vault nearly 13 feet. At the age of 82, he’s able to get about 7 feet. That’s an impressive feat, and it proves the adage that you can do anything you put your mind to. Remarkably, Arledge has actually improved as he’s gotten older.
“I keep getting a little better,” he says. “Usually, when you’re older you get worse at things, but if you work hard enough and eat right and train right, you can reverse that aging process.”
He does his training at Otterbein Lebanon Senior Lifestyle Choices, where he lives happily with his wife. The fitness center includes a large room full of treadmills, bikes, ellipticals and free weights, as well as a walking track and an indoor pool.
“I work out every day,” says Arledge. “I swim for 30 minutes and lift weights for upper body strength. You have to work on your core muscles, your abdominals. I also walk on the treadmills and sprint on the track.”
When Arledge says “sprint,” he means it. He’s a blur. He’s probably in better shape than most people half his age. Thanks to Otterbein’s YMCA, he’s only getting faster.
“The swimming pool and weight room were big factors in my decision to come to Otterbein,” he says. “I also know some residents from across the street and we ran track together at Otterbein College, so it’s nice to renew those old friendships.”
Arledge enjoys competing in the Senior Olympic Games, and he’s good at it too. He returned from the USA Track & Field Masters in March with a gold medal, having won the pole vault in the 80-84 age group.
“I guess I’m a national champion now, which feels pretty good,” he says, smiling.
Arledge will continue to compete, too. He will travel to the National Senior Games in Minneapolis in June. Then, in August, he has been invited to the World Games in Leon, France. “I didn’t know it, but they said I’m ranked ninth in the world in my age group.”
It’s surprising what someone can do at Arledge’s age. Then again, maybe it’s not.
Otterbein Lebanon Senior Lifestyle Choices is located at 585 North State Route 741, Lebanon, OH 45306. You can reach them at 513.932.2020 or visit their website at www.otterbein.org.