Pole Vaulting Great’s Story Told in Tulsan’s Book

GTR Sports Writer

Courtesy photo
THE SKY’S THE LIMIT: Tulsa author Doug Eaton, left, and Joe Dial with Eaton’s interesting coverage of the athletic career of Joe Dial.

 For nine years, Marlow native Joe Dial was the greatest pole vaulter in the land, breaking the American record nine times and briefly holding the world indoor mark. He soared higher and higher and higher. Still, it wasn’t enough.
 “What’s so funny is I never jumped as high as I knew I could,’’ said Dial, the Oral Roberts University track and field-cross country coach since 1993. “I was so poor growing up and if I broke the American record I would get $2,500 from Nike. If I broke the world record I got $5,000.
 “Breaking the American record was easy and in my mind why shouldn’t I break the American record over and over and get more money? My biggest regret is that I never jumped as high as I could. I should have jumped higher.’’
 Maybe so, but the Oklahoma State graduate had a career to write home about. Dial, 57, finished  with a best clearance of 19 feet, 6 ½ inches and won the bronze medal at the 1989 Indoor World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. A book was recently published to highlight his exploits and he retired as the crown jewel of a family that lived and breathed pole vaulting.
 The runway to legendary status began for Dial at the tender age of five in Gatlin, a small town between Marlow and Duncan. Dial’s brother Rex was already a state champion and won the Meet of Champions. When Rex broke his pole one day, coach Melson gave half of it to Joe.
 “My dad, Earl Dean Dial, taught me to vault in the front yard,’’ said Joe.” He was No. 1 going into the state meet, but he broke his arm in a car wreck and didn’t get to jump. In 1924, my grandpa won gold medals in the long jump, high jump, shot put and discus. He was the all-around champion and my grandma gave me his medals when he passed away. They were made of real gold.’’
 The family athletics dynasty had begun and the pedigree proved vital. Son Tommy Dial holds the Oklahoma Class 6A state record, nephew Josh secured the 5A state meet record, nephew Bruce was No. 1 nationally in high school in 1993 and niece Dena Dial was a two-time All-America at ORU.
 “Bruce wanted me to coach him when I was in town and Claude Roumain, the ORU coach at the time, said ‘if you get him to come here I will give you a job,’” said Dial, whose wife Shawna is now one of his assistant coaches. “When I started here I didn’t have any assistants. I was overwhelmed with 70 kids on the team. I needed help and she volunteered. She didn’t know anything about track.’’
 Today Mrs. Dial handles all business aspects and travel arrangements of the program and even recruits.
 “I couldn’t have done it without her,” insisted Dial, married to his track and field soulmate for 33 years.
 The coach has had more than his share of trials and tribulations since arriving on the ORU campus. The program almost dissolved in the early 2000s due to a financial crisis. He didn’t even have a track and field complex until 2017 and chronic back pain and eight surgeries nearly cost him dearly. The school still does not give full scholarships for track.
“Track has changed over the years. Schools now give full scholarships plus $500 to $1,000 a month,’’ Dial said. “ORU doesn’t do that. That makes for a little unfair advantage. We had to start over (15 years ago when the program almost died). The cuts almost killed us, but we’re right in the middle of rebuilding. I need another couple of recruiting years like I’ve had the last couple of years and we’ll be right back in the hunt.’’
 Helping in the reconstruction is the state of the art complex ORU built for the program. Gone are the days when Dial was forced to load his team into a pickup truck and head to Jenks for practice sessions. This season ORU will play host to the state’s premier high school invitational meet and a college event that will include Oklahoma, Kansas and other regional powers.
 Dial and his team have long been studies in extremes. On the plus side, he was a four-time Oklahoma high school champion, four time NCAA titlist and the national prep track athlete of the year in 1981. As a coach, Dial tutored 50 All-Americans, won 18 Mid-Continent Conference meets and had two athletes sweep NCAA championships.
 All of that came with a touch of irony.
“I’ve had eight lower back surgeries,’’ Dial said. “I thought I would have to quit coaching. I was in too much pain and it had gone on for years. I was close to retiring because I had to take pain medicine and injections all the time. I kept rupturing my discs.
 “I had those eight surgeries in a year and a half. Then I went to see Mike Peterson, a chiropractor, and he helped me with physical therapy. He worked on me twice a week and it started breaking up all the scar tissue. Each week I kept getting better and better and I was able to stop taking medicine. I’ve got a new lease on life and I feel great now.’’              
  Dial must have relied on the courage and strength he found as a yearling pole vaulter and perhaps a little divine inspiration to soldier on through adversity. To him, it’s still all a mystery.
 “I don’t know why I was good at vaulting. I don’t how I did it,’’ he said. “I was little, a tiny thing. I always had good speed and the support of my father. My dad coached me and it (pole vaulting) seemed to come a little easier to me.’’
 No matter the event, Dial succeeded. He long jumped 23-5 ½ to win a state title at Marlow, ran the 100-yard dash in 10.0 seconds and legs on both the 400 and 1,600 relay teams.
Considering Dial’s achieve-
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ments, University of Tulsa Law School graduate Doug Eaton decided his saga should be told and it was in the recently released “The Sky’s The Limit – The Joe Dial Story’’ from Gold Medal Publishing. The book took years to complete and was worth the wait.       
“I met Doug six or eight years ago and it took that long before I was ready to do the book,’’ Dial said. “I met him at a Jenks football game and he told me he would really like to write about me sometime. I told him I didn’t feel like I was ready and I put him off. I finally told him I was ready to do it (in 2016).
 “I thought it would be something quick, but we met pretty much every Wednesday for a year. It took an entire year to do it, but it was fun. We ended up doing four book signings and did the last one at Marlow on the Fourth of July last year.’’
 Dial said the book covers his life from age five to the present. Country star Garth Brooks and all-time great pole vaulting champion Sergey Bubka penned forewards. Dial said he and Eaton will donate all profits with his going to an orphanage in Paraguay.     
 Now the little country boy from the dusty plains of Oklahoma has a little time to reflect on a career that transformed him into one of the state’s greatest athletic success stores. And he as the book to prove it. His legacy is certain although he considers it a bit tarnished.
 “There was no jumping as high as I could have and that’s one regret I can’t do anything about now,’’ he said. “I’ll just keep coaching because I believe in what ORU stands for, the whole person and developing kids. I still enjoy doing that.’’

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