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"High on the Poles…and the Polls" June 2018 Athlete of the Month

Brad Winter, 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico

When Brad Winter was a kid, he and his friends liked to use a broomstick to jump up on walls. “My father got us some bamboo poles, and we would spend hours and hours on weekends with a pole vault run we fixed up with boards and dirt in the back yard,” he recalls. “That’s how it got started.”

A decade later, he set a national junior college record and qualified for the Olympic trials at New Mexico Junior College. That led to an offer from the University of Oklahoma, where Brad leapt to a Big 8 pole vault championship and All-American honors in 1971.

Throughout his adulthood, Brad has never strayed far from a vaulting pit, competing in masters track and field events. “I set my personal record of 17 feet one inch at the age of 37, so I didn’t reach my peak until later,” he notes.

The Albuquerque native enjoyed competing at New Mexico Senior Olympics and made his first National Senior Games appearance in 2017, earning a silver medal with his leap of 10’ 2.05” in the men’s 65-69 age group.

“I have pole vaulting friends that I’ve kept in touch with for years and years and saw a couple of them at the Senior Games,” he says. “It’s really fun to reconnect with folks when I compete.”

Asked how he felt about losing the gold to Phil Milliman of Sequim,Washington, Brad tips his hat. “He was better than I was that day, so I’ll be training hard and maybe I’ll be better at the next one. I’m very competitive, but it’s a friendly kind of competitive. I’m happy to have the camaraderie and friendships. Everybody roots for everybody, everybody helps each other. It’s just great.”

Brad has special reasons to be jumping for joy that the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana is coming to his home town. He has been elected to the Albuquerque City Council for 7 consecutive terms, serving three of those terms as council president. The career educator has also been a collegiate coach and a teacher, principal and Superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools. Brad was also appointed to serve out a term as Secretary of State of New Mexico in 2015 following the resignation of the incumbent.

The popular community leader bursts with pride about playing host. “This is huge for Albuquerque, and especially for the seniors here,” he says. “I think we’re lucky to have it, and people are going to really enjoy coming next year. Albuquerque is just beautiful, with the weather, the mountains, the culture and all.”

Despite his successes, it hasn’t all been easy for Brad to continue to enjoy his sport. “I’ve had seven surgeries over time on my knee. I didn’t have much cartilage, so I kept getting it worked on until I just couldn’t jump anymore,” he recounts. “Three years ago, I got a partial knee replacement, and it works great. It’s probably the strongest part of me now.”

While he keeps up with regular drills and practices vaults once a week, Brad has adapted his weight lifting and gym workouts to keep his legs and knees in form. “I still lift, I just go lighter now and don’t squat as much,” he says. “I would work out anyway, but pole vaulting helps to motivate me to stay in shape, just with the thought that I need to be ready to vault and stay a part of this.” 

Brad has also realized his dream to build his own pit. “I salvaged an old pit from a local school, and a friend of mine has an acre of land in a beautiful area where we set it up. We call it ‘The Garden of Eden Pole Vault Facility’ and I get some of the old guys to come out on Sundays to jump. It’s exciting.”

After a pause, he adds, “I’m just in heaven when I get to pole vault.”

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