Arkell, who owns the Australian record, during his competition days. (courtesy of S. Arkell)
There is a vast diversity of people that attend and work at Saddleback College. There are young people first attending college and older people returning to college. There are first- time as well as seasoned instructors. There is also a software CEO, entrepreneur, two-time Olympic pole vaulter, five-time NCAA All-American, and current Australian record holder. This interesting man is Simon Arkell.
Arkell is the pole vaulting coach for the Saddleback Gaucho track and field team. Arkell is in his eighth year of coaching at Saddleback.
While taking a swimming class with his wife at Saddleback, the coach of the class, Flip Darr, the U.S. Olympic swimming coach in the 1960s, noticed Arkell’s tattoo of the Olympic rings on his shoulder.
They got to talking, and Darr gave Arkell’s information to Saddleback track and field coach, Mark Blethen. About a week later, Blethen gave Arkell a call, and he has been coaching Gaucho pole vaulters since.
“I love coaching at Saddleback,” Arkell said. “Saddleback doesn’t have superstars,” Arkell said, “but there are people very much like me when I was an athlete that took a long time to develop their talent. I am able to take my experience to the kids here who have been competing here over the last eight years.”
Experience is not something that Arkell lacks in the least bit. He began pole vaulting at the age of 11 after his stepfather, a track coach, took him to watch a documentary about the Olympics.
“It inspired me,” Arkell said. “I knew then and there that I wanted to be in the Olympic Games. Problem was I wasn’t really good at anything in particular.”
Arkell said that pole vaulting eventually found him and started jumping around the age of 11 or 12. He fell in love with the sport.
“It is kind of unique and exciting to a certain personality type,” Arkell said, “but I became a junkie.”
“I wasn’t very good at sports in general,” Arkell said, “but knew this is something I wanted pursue and be the best I could be at.”
It took him a while, but he did become quite adept at pole vaulting. Arkell eventually made the Australian junior pole vaulting team, and in 1986 travelled to the United States with the team. He became exposed to all different types of relays and also discovered the NCAA system.
“The U.S. College scholarship system,” Arkell said, “is the best in the world in nurturing athletic talent and still allowing you to go to school to get your degree and compete and do the sport you love.”
Arkell wrote to 37 universities and eventually landed at the University of New Mexico Albuquerque. At the university, Arkell would become a five-time NCAA All-American, a seven-time Western Athletic Conference Champion and raise the school record by a foot and a half.
After graduating in 1991 with a degree in economics, Arkell began to train for the Olympics. Arkell would compete in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. During his training for the 1996 Olympics, he competed in a grand prix meet in his hometown of Adelaide, Australia.
At this meet during his 19th year of pole vaulting, Arkell broke the 19-foot barrier for the first time in Australian history and the 50th time all-time. That was the ninth time he had broken the Australian pole vault record and the third time he broke the Commonwealth of Nations pole vault record.
The 1996 Summer Olympics would be Arkell’s last official competitive pole vaulting meet. With that career done, Arkell continued his academic career attending graduate school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and earning his MBA in Business administration.
Arkell would settle down in Orange County where he spent many warm winter training sessions on the UC Irvine campus while in college in New Mexico.
Arkell is now the CEO of Tailwind Global Systems, and he also opened up a new nutrition store in Laguna Niguel called Nutrishop. Arkell is married with two children.
Nick Jennings, Simon Arkell, Katie Espinoza, and Griffin Simmons enjoy a warm day at practice. (Joseph Espiritu)