SHERIDAN — In 1985 Penny Tolman, then Penny Zeitner, won the 300-meter hurdles at the regional track meet for Sheridan High School. Tolman graduated SHS in 1986 and has been coaching track and field and cross country in Burlington since 2001 and is currently the school’s art and family and consumer science teacher. Burlington is a K-12 school in Big Horn County.
In 2013, Tolman was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, and was barely able to function due to extreme fatigue. Two years later, Tolman’s arm locked up while attending a cross country meet. Arthritis was a side effect of lupus, causing her to lose movement in her fingers and knees.
“I couldn’t drive for a few months,” Tolman said. “I was unable to get in or out of a vehicle on my own. It was a really hard six month where I felt like life ended for me. I thought ‘this is not going to happen.’ I started doing research on how to fix this.”
Tolman did everything she could to change the way she lived her life, including changing her diet, taking medicine to help with arthritis and attending emotional support classes. Tolman started training for track events again and competed in track meets when she could.
A lifetime track athlete, Tolman took gold in her age division, 50-54 years old, in pole vaulting at the U.S.A. Track and Field Masters National Outdoor Championships in Ames, Iowa, July 11-13. She cleared the bar at 7’ 2.5” at the age of 51.
Tolman received a bronze medal in the 80-meter hurdles with a time of 16.25 seconds and was fourth in the triple jump with a distance of 24’.75”. Both scores made Tolman an All-American in the events.
Tolman became an All-American in pole vaulting after she cleared 8’ at the Big Sky State Games in Billings, Montana, July 20. To be an All-American, a pole vaulter needs to clear 7’ 6”.
Tolman’s daughter, Zaiah Tolman, also competed at BSSG, taking first place in pole vaulting in the 19-29 age division with a height of 9’6”.
“Seeing how far she has come and seeing how happy she is doing what she loves is really inspiring,” Zaiah Tolman said. “It is really motivating for me.”
Penny Tolman said she enjoys the competition and being able to compete with people her own age. It is also a competition against her own body.
“What pushes me is the things that are wrong with me are not going to beat me,” Tolman said. “It is fun to have the competition with other people, but it is more of a competition with myself. Every day, no matter how much it hurts, I can still do things so I am going to do them.”
Growing up in Sheridan, Penny Tolman competed in cross-country and track and field. She participated in 100- and 300-meter hurdles and triple jump. There was not a girls division for pole vaulting at the time. Tolman started her pole vaulting career a few years ago as she started to train for track and field events. Tolman learned the techniques for pole vaulting as a track coach for Burlington and attended camps when her daughter was competing in the event during junior high and high school.
To train for the track events, Tolman spends up to three hours a day training on the track during the summer, splitting her time practicing the three different events.
She coaches cross-country and track at Burlington, giving her an opportunity to train during the fall and spring.
For winter training, Tolman used her living room as her training grounds, completing Insanity workouts with her husband Sam Allred over the phone.
Allred works in Logan, Utah, and tries to support Tolman in whatever way he can. Allred said he and Tolman would press play on the workout at the same time, staying connected on speakerphone. This allowed the couple to support each other and stay connected while working out.
Tolman said Allred was the driving force behind her attending the USATF National meet in Iowa, taking care of all the logistical work. Allred said the trip counted as a honeymoon; Allred and Tolman were married June 1 of this year.
Allred said with both going through divorces before marrying each other, he knew supporting his new wife in her passions for track would be key to building a lasting relationship.
Tolman said Allred has done an amazing job supporting her and encouraging her.
He also acts as her personal photographer at the track meets.
Tolman has one more track meet on her schedule this summer, the Wyoming Senior Olympics Aug. 8-10 in Cheyenne.