Old age is often considered a time of decline, but older adults around the world are filling their golden years with amazing accomplishments. It is a common misconception that once you are 50, you are “over the hill” and you begin an unending decline. Recent research seems to dispel this myth from both a mental and physical standpoint. There are some amazing, almost unbelievable seniors who’ve set ambitious physical goals for themselves and through hard work and dedication have accomplished some incredible feats.
Following are the most adventurous senior athletes who are finding ways to stay active and motivated as they age. Their accomplishments would make much younger athletes quite proud. These athletes, some who have lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Civil Rights Movement prove that health and fitness don’t have an age. With purpose and dedication, they’re dismissing boundaries and showing the world that speed, strength, athleticism, and passion don’t have to fade as the years pass.
Take for example, Orville Rogers who is 100 years old and routinely breaks records at track meets around the country. Sure he doesn’t have much competition in his age bracket but that is beside the point. “Some people think I run because I can, but that’s backward, I can because I do.” The world’s centenarian population is expected to grow eightfold by 2050, according to a Pew Research Report Center which shows America leading the pack in the sheer number of citizens age 100 and up.
Then there is Tao Porchon-Lynch who at 98 has practiced yoga for 70 plus years and taught for more than 45. She has earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest yoga instructor. She can still execute a perfect tree pose. Like Orville, Tao’s secret is simple, she can because she does. “The breath of life is in all of us, but most of us don’t use it all the time,” says Porchon-Lynch and “there is nothing you cannot do!”
Meet another runner, Harriette Thompson, the Rockin Runner from Charlotte, North Carolina who at 92 crossed the finish line at the Rock n Roll Marathon in San Diego becoming the oldest woman to finish a marathon and the second oldest marathon runner in U.S. history. She finished the race in 7 hours and 7 minutes to break the record for the fastest time in her age group. She is a cancer survivor and ran her first marathon at age 76. Her advice for fellow seniors is to keep reaching for their goals. She says, “I think if I can do it, anybody can do it, because I wasn’t trained to be a runner. I have also found that it’s very invigorating. I feel like a million dollars when I’m finished.”
Meet unconventional athlete, Sister Madonna Buder, who started running at age 48 and completed her first triathlon at 52. After that she was hooked. She practiced on a nephew’s bike until she was eventually ready for a full Ironman. She completed the Ironman event in Hawaii in 2005 at age 75, earning her the nickname “Iron Nun.” She is the oldest woman to finish this extremely grueling event, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, followed by a marathon of 26.2 miles. Her time was just shy of the 17 hour cut-off. She offers these words of wisdom, “Don’t pay attention to how old you are, only focus on how old you feel; and be patient, I’m still trying to fine-tune it so that I’m able to stop and smell the roses.”
Then there is the amazing octogenarian, Johanna Quaas, the Grandma Gymnast born in 1925. She started doing gymnastics at an early age and participated in her first competition in 1934. Eighty years later, she is still completing and has earned entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest gymnast in the world.
Reaching new heights is this unbelievable oldster, Yuchiro Miura the first person to ski on Everest 33 years before his first summit climb. In 2013 Miura became the oldest person to summit Mount Everest. He broke his own world record that he’d set in 2003, despite battling diabetes, undergoing three heart surgeries and recovering from a complicated surgery to repair his shattered pelvis in the decade between the summit attempts. In spite of his physical challenges he persisted, rebuilding his fitness routine until he was ready to tackle the ultimate peak once more. He reflects on his amazing victory, “I had a dream to climb Everest at this age. If you have a dream, never give up. Dreams come true.” Miura continues to train for ambitious skiing descents as well as a fourth Everest bid at 90 years of age.
As I travel through my own aging journey it is so inspiring to hear of these unbelievable “older” athletes. I ponder and marvel at the outstanding accomplishments of these octogenarians and beyond who are vibrant, vital and living their lives with impressive physical and mental attitude. “The thread that binds them is not the year on their birth certificate but the way they live.”
What is the common thread that weaves through these amazing lives? They each have a resolve and a passion that is ignited and burns strong in each of them. They are goal driven and refuse to give up or give in to the aging process that so many people of their generation and younger do. They are rather miraculous role models for all, especially those of us who enjoy physical challenges. Clearly, there is pain and discomfort in what they do, but apparently for them, the sheer joy of achieving their goals supersedes the bodily pain that certainly accompanies their amazing accomplishments.
What can we baby boomers learn from these super seniors as we journey to their advanced decades? Are we all going to run a marathon? Be a triathlete or even climb Everest? Probably not. However, having dreams, setting goals and taking small concrete steps toward those goals can empower, energize and excite us. Progress reinforces behavior, and before you know it, you have realized your dream and find that you are ready for the next one.
Gloria Friedrich was born, raised, and lives in Colorado where she has always enjoyed the outdoor life. She has been married for fifty years and raised two children while pursuing a couple of careers. She worked in retail management, then returned to college to get a BA degree in her 40’s and an MA in her 50’s in order to build a career in teaching. All the while she has followed her dream of an active life. She maintains a regimen of regular aerobic and weight workouts, but also participates in a number of outdoor activities. She loves hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking, and tennis. In her lifetime, she has run numerous road races and hiked half of Colorado’s 14er’s. She is an avid traveler and reader who enjoys hearing and learning about other’s physical achievements. That’s what keeps her motivated. If others can enjoy the struggles and accomplishments of physical activity, so can she. That’s what spurred her to write this piece on exercise and aging.
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