Twenty years after thinking he was finished pole vaulting, Scott Johnson’94 is now one of the best in the world for his age group. It seems everything has come full circle. And it happened by accident.
When he competed for Culver, Johnson finished eighth in the state both his second- and first-class years. He then took what he learned from Coach Mike Chastain to Indiana University for four years, where he competed under legendary coach Sam Bell. He met his wife, Holly, a high jumper on the IU team. After graduation, he put his poles down to get on with his life.
But now he is coaching the pole vaulters at Culver Academies and practicing what he preaches with Chastain serving as his coach once again. Johnson competes in the United States Track & Field (USATF) masters division in the 40-44 age group. He goes to three or four sanctioned meets a year. The meet officials then enter each competitor’s results into the USATF’s database. When Johnson cleared 14 feet, 6 inches at the Three Rivers Festival competition in Fort Wayne, Indiana earlier this month, it moved him into second place in the world.
The coaching started while Johnson was living and working in the Indianapolis area. A friend asked him if he would coach his daughter at Carmel High School. Johnson worked with her and her teammates. She went to the state meet twice and set a school record. When she graduated, he decided to help the pole vaulters at Center Grove High School, which was closer to home.
A boy on the team was having trouble grasping a phase of the vault Johnson was describing, so he decided to show the junior how to do it. “I just grabbed the pole,” Johnson said. He made the vault but “I’m surprised I didn’t hurt myself.”
But Johnson had made his point. The vaulter understood. The athlete ended the season jumping nearly 16 feet, setting a school record, and finishing seventh at the state meet. Though he was injured his senior year, the boy went on to pole vault at IU.
Johnson’s demonstration also rekindled his passion for the event. While he has always worked out, he explained, it took him a year to become strong and fast enough to compete again in the USATF events. There are approximately 40 to 50 pole vaulters in the 40-44 age group actively competing worldwide, he said.
Now that the Johnsons have moved to Culver, Chastain is working with him again, taping his practices on an iPad and making suggestions. Johnson credits Chastain with suggesting a twist at the peak of his vault that added four more inches and allowed him to move into second place.
Along with the sanctioned meets, Johnson sprinkles in three to four exhibition meets to stay in shape. While they take measurements, they are not as exact and do not count officially, Johnson said. His sanctioned personal record is 16-6 while his unsanctioned best is 17-0, both of which he accomplished during his college years.
His personal goal now is to clear 15 feet again, which would move him into the No. 1 spot in the world in his age group. That is because USA Today ran an article listing The 10 Hardest Things to Do in Sports. Third on the list was clearing 15 feet in the pole vault. “I want to know that, even as a 42 year old, I can still do one of the hardest things in sports,” he said.
This spring, Johnson started working with the Culver pole vaulters. CGA sophomore Isabelle Ahlenius tied the indoor record at 9-0 and finished second at the sectional, with freshman Maggie Bialek taking fourth. CMA’s Aaron Brooke ’18 won the sectional meet with a 13-6 vault.
Below: Johnson clears 14’6″ at the Three Rivers Festival competition in Fort Wayne, IN.