Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Winter 2017 (January 30, 2017)

Clearing the Bar

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January 10, 2017
By Meaghan Ziemba

[W17] Jerry Donley’51, Preparing to Pole Vault
Photo by: Carl Bower Photography/

At 86-years-young, Jerry Donley’51 has no intention of quitting pole vaulting anytime soon. “I’m having an awful lot of fun, and I still love it,” he explains. “As long as I’m healthy and can run I will keep competing.”

It’s that kind of dedication to the sport that led to Donley receiving the “80+ Male Track Athlete of the Year” at the 2015 USA Masters Track and Field competition. “There are a number of people in the 80 to 85-year-old group who are spectacular athletes, as well as quite a few in the 90-year-old group, so it was a nice surprise to get recognized for the events I compete in.”

Masters Track and Field offers local, regional, national, and international competition for athletes aged 30 and older. Men and women compete in their sports within five-year age brackets. Aside from pole vaulting, Donley also competes in the long jump, high jump, and 60-meter run.

Donley’s brother convinced him to apply to Beloit College because of the new track coach at the time, Herb Hodges, who led Beloit to win three Midwest Conference titles. Donley chose Beloit because he thought he could be a more successful pole vaulter at a smaller college. “I qualified for the national NCAA open championship as well as for the state championship in 1950, jumping at 13’6” at the time,” says Donley, who was inducted into Beloit’s Athletic Hall of Honor in 1988.

He participated in track and field all four years at Beloit but missed the chance to compete in the Beloit Relays because of a broken collar bone.

“I wasn’t the typical athlete. I didn’t have a lot of speed or strength,” Donley reflects. “But with discipline and hard work, I knew I could become a national competitor. With the discipline I learned in track and field, I was able to become a successful lawyer. It was the basic part of my education that made it possible for me to do well at Beloit and in law school.”

After law school, Donley moved back to Colorado and became a trial lawyer. Over the years, he’s been involved in the leadership of the Masters Track and Field organization. In retirement, he also remains active in the community and volunteers at his church.

Track and field still consumes much of his life.

He and his wife, Christel, continue to train together and compete all over the world. Christel competed last year in the pentathlon (hurdles, shot put, long jump, high jump, and 800 meter run) and individual events. “She is very gregarious,” Donley says of his wife. “Wherever we go, she is sought after and receives a lot of attention because she is the very best in the world. I typically just tag along with her.”

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