Wyoming man’s backyard pole vaulting pit keeps him connected to the sport
When some people reach middle-age, they buy a convertible. When Mike Soule turned 53 in 2005, he installed a pole vaulting pit in his Wyoming backyard.
And not just any pole vaulting pit, but one with an 85-foot rubber runway overlaying two tons of limestone base, complete with 4,500 watts of permanent outdoor lighting.
“It’s my own ‘Field of Dreams’,” says Soule. “Shoot, I’m 60 years old. I’ve got to have some fun somehow, right?”
Inspired to Return
A native of Luck, WI, Soule grew up pole vaulting. He started practicing using peach crates and a conduit pole at the age of 7, and went on to qualify for the 1969 state meet in the event while at Hudson (WI) High School. Though he topped out at 12-7 1/2, he chose to pursue football instead as a walk-on at the University of Arkansas.
Over the years, Soule regretted getting away from the sport, and inspiration struck one day in 2004. After watching American pole vaulters claim the gold and silver in the Olympics that year, he came to a conclusion: “That might be fun again.”
The father of three put in the physical training necessary for his return to the sport, but was still in for a rude awakening.
“All the people that still do this still do this with an 18-year-old brain,” Soule says. “I was looking at 10-12 feet thinking ‘Yeah, I can do that, no problem.’”
Adjusted expectations did not diminish the thrill of flying through the air. Rather, Soule has never looked back. Among other events, he has qualified for two National Senior Games, participated in three USATF National Masters Track and Field Indoors Championships and is training for his third outdoors championship. At the national indoor meet held last month in Bloomington, IN, he placed fourth in the 60-65 age group by clearing 8-6.
While he trains hard, Soule is never one to be too serious. He has adopted the nickname of the Vaulting Geezer, and even has a logo and shirts to prove it.
“It’s kind of a reality check,” he says. “You have to accept what you are able to do. I rejoice in the fact that I’m the best 60-year-old vaulter in the State of Minnesota, even though I think I’m the only one!”
Labor of Love
Soule’s participation in the masters track programs is just a small part of his ongoing relationship with the sport. He dabbled in coaching at the high school level, but the backyard pit allowed him the chance to start his own pole vaulting club. Over a dozen athletes flock to 6275 253rd St. as part of G-Force Vault Club, which is sanctioned by USATF. Members range in age from under 10 to over 50. Several past and present vaulters have starred at the high school level while under Soule’s tutelage, including some from Forest Lake High School.
Soule – who moved to Wyoming eight years ago after about 20 years in Circle Pines – put in four 15-hour weekends of hard labor bringing the pit to life in his back yard. With help from a friend, he trenched nearly 200 feet of ditch to put in the lights, and he also cut out 27 pieces of sod weighing 75 pounds each to make room for the runway. In all, Soule put over $2,000 into the project.
Thankfully, he has understanding neighbors.
“They always thought I was crazy, but they all sit on their deck and watch us jump,” he says.