Fear of osteoporosis got Greta Pontarelli up from her desk and onto a pole, but it was pure grit and daily affirmations that, just three years later when she was 61, won her first place in the 2014 pole sports world championship. Since then her elegant, gravity-defying routine has made her an internationally ranked pole artist and today, at 64, Pontarelli is entering competitions from London to Singapore.
If you think pole sports is all about slithering around a brass pole in spike heels and not much else, it’s time to rethink. A kind of vertical gymnastics crossed with choreographed dance, pole sports is an emerging athletic trend and already, fitness studios across the country are offering “vertical fitness” classes for men and women of all ages.
“When I first started, I looked around and wondered where all the older people were,” Pontarelli says. Back then, most pole artists were young women. Today, the barely three-year-old International Pole Sports Federation holds competitions for men as well as women, including Masters age 50-plus.
Pontarelli has always been physically active. As soon as her children were old enough to go to school, she went back to the gym for aerobics and weight training. Eventually she studied martial arts, especially a form that’s been described as a “ballet of combat and beauty” called Wushu. But still, there was a learning curve when she started pole sports at age 59.
“When I first went to the pole arts studio, I couldn’t get up the pole! I’m sure the trainers doubted that I would come back. But I thought, I’m going to keep doing this until I have a little victory.” As time went on, one “little victory” led to another and another. “Each victory propels you to do more. It’s a very positive addiction,”Pontarelli says.
“It’s healthy, it’s creative, and it’s artistic.”
We spoke by phone to Pontarelli at her home in De Luz, California.
How did you get started in pole arts?
I saw some fantastic athletic pole videos on YouTube of [world champions] Jenyne Butterfly, Felix Cane and Oona Kivela, and I was hooked!
Would you describe yourself as a competitive person?
The real competition for me is in the mirror. I’m competing with myself all the time. Competing gives me a goal. It inspires me to become the best that I can become. It challenges me. I believe you need to have a daily plan for meeting your goals.
When I started competing in pole sports events, I was 61. To be honest, I didn’t think I was good enough to be in that first competition. But I realized that I needed to compete to inspire others to not let age or any limitation keep them from passionately pursuing their dreams.
You’ve been very physically active your whole life and you’ve kept pushing your limits. Have you noticed physical changes as you’ve aged?
I know there’s a limit to how much I can push my body. To do my pole competition routine three times each workout is challenging. The recovery time takes longer, and there are little painful issues from old scar tissue.
I’ve lost a lot of flexibility. There are some things that I can’t do, but I feel there is always something else to work on. Maybe I can’t do what I once did, but I can enhance my artistry to touch the heart of the audience more deeply.
You posted on your website about the importance of “living from your center.” What do you mean by that?
In martial arts as well as my study of Eastern philosophy I learned the importance of living from your balance point. Integrating body, mind and spirit stimulates your intuitive sense of purpose and integrity within each moment of your life. I believe we are masters of our destiny. I am the architect of whatever happens to me, which makes me responsible for my universe and my life.
Does technology play a role in your life?
I’m extremely comfortable with technology. I have had an online business for many years, so I had to learn how to use Photoshop, Excel, PowerPoint. I had excellent teachers, because my kids were off the charts in technology know how.
What do you think is the best thing about aging?
You see life through a different lens as you age. You view things from a more eternal perspective. I believe seeing things from that vantage point enhances your intuition and quality of life.
People matter more than ever to me. You realize as you age that you’re here to serve. This didn’t really blossom in me fully until I was somewhat older.
What does aging with attitude mean to you?
No one grows old by merely living a number of years. We grow old by giving up our dreams. Aging with attitude means you don’t let age keep you from going after your dreams and living passionately. Whatever your dream is, you can always reach some level of achievement. Do something every day to be a little bit better. Those little victories will keep you going.
What’s your dream – and could it ever be your reality? Tell us in the comments section below!