Athlete, coach gets back to pole vaulting after 30 year break

MILWAUKEE — One athlete refuses to bend to the aging process, but instead, bends with it!

The Get Vertical Pole Vaulting Club has been a staple for the area’s best vaulters for the last four years. 50-60 kids from grade school to college gather a few times a week to work on and perfect their technique. Long before that, Paul Tilleman was one of just a few local high schoolers competing in the event.

After taking 30-some years off, Tilleman found himself drawn back to the pit.

“My older son was running track. He was a distance runner and I was going to the meet, so I gravitated to the pole vault,” Tilleman said.

Eventually, Tilleman decided to pick up the pole again and got in shape and lost some weight. Now, the 59-year-old competes at the masters level.

Tilleman says he motions and mechanics came back quickly.

“The body is way different than when I started. It’s more like a bag of loose parts,” Tilleman said.

As much as Tilleman enjoys the jumping, he says he gets the biggest high from coaching kids. Because he can still get up over the bar himself, there’s a certain level of respect from the athletes he mentors.

“He’s like the best coach. He has so much passion and enthusiasm. You can tell that’s fueled all these years,” Sofie Yang said.

Tilleman is a competitive person, but he doesn’t put a lot of importance on winning. Instead, it’s the sense of accomplishment and the chance to learn something new with every run that’ll keep him vertical for years to come.

“I’ll keep doing it until I’m not physically able. I won’t say until I shouldn’t do it because I’ll go beyond that, but then I’ll stop,” Tilleman said.

Tilleman says he isn’t the oldest to compete at the masters level. There’s a man who comes up from Rockford, Illinois who is 83-years-young.

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