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At 39, North grad aiming to surpass high school mark

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SPRINTING down a runway with a fiberglass pole and launching oneself over a bar is usually reserved for kids less than half Dan Newell’s age.

But at 39, the Columbus resident is defying that age. He recently began pole vaulting again, and on Saturday he won his age group in the USA Track and Field Indiana Masters Championship at Franklin College with a vault of 12 feet, 3 inches.

“I never thought I would be close to what I was in high school or maybe even a little bit better,” Newell said. “I am pleasantly surprised at what I can do at this age.”


As a junior at Columbus North High School, Newell finished seventh in the state with a vault of 13-9. He set a school record of 14-6 in the regional as a senior in 1993.

“I think he could have gotten 15 if we’d have had another week or so because his clearance at the regional at 14-6 was huge,” North pole vault coach Dale Stelting said. “Then, he had to go run the 300 hurdles.

He came back from the 300s a little tired. When he attempted 15, he just didn’t have it.”

Newell was the top seed going into the state meet but did not place.

“We made a bad call on passing a height,” Stelting said. “We cleared 13-6 and didn’t get 14 after we passed 13-9.”

After high school, Newell went into the Navy and became a Navy Seal. Sometimes on his visits home from California, he returned to North to vault with Stelting.

Midway through his 10-year Navy excursion, some Navy buddies told Newell about the relatively new X Games on ESPN and it’s $3,000 payout to winners. So Newell competed and won.

Along the way, Newell also held the record for the obstacle course at Coronado, California, and dabbled in Brazilian jujitsu. He still does CrossFit at CrossFit 812 and runs to stay in shape. Newell has ran a marathon and a few half-marathons with his wife, Christina.

“I’ve always been up for the challenge,” Dan Newell said. “I went into the Navy and did some cool stuff there. I came back to do custom cabinetry, and I’ve been always looking for competition.”

When three of his three children became involved in the Columbus Running Club, Newell began helping director Randy Stafford. Newell then discovered he could still be a competitive pole vaulter.

“I was starting to hang around there, and then I decided I could start competing again,” Newell said. “I got back in shape and have had the opportunity to start training and practicing there at North High School again, and they’ve been generous enough to allow me to jump on the pit there.”

Newell is still working with Stelting, who calls Newell one of the two hardest-working, most talented male athletes he’s coached.

“So ‘surprised’ is not the right word,” Stelting said. “I’m happy that he’s been able to stay in shape, but I’m not surprised.”

This weekend, Newell will be at the Indiana State Fair participating in the pole vaulting exhibition.

“It will be fun,” he said. “You just jump in wherever you kind of feel like you fit in.”

Although he was bothered by a tender hamstring on Saturday, Newell is poised to soar to heights he hasn’t cleared in more than 20 years.

“When I’m healthy without the hamstring bothering me, I’m working pretty well over 14 feet,” Newell said. “I’m motivated to do better than I was in high school. That’s my big goal.”

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