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7 Senior Fitness All-Stars Who Stay Competitive

The Huffington Post     First Posted: 01/07/2012 11:22 am EST   Updated: 01/23/2014 6:58 pm EST

Ever wonder if you're too old to train for a new sport? Consider the case of R. Laurence Macon, a trial lawyer from Dallas, Tex. who recently broke a world record for the number of marathons completed in a single year, with 113 certified races in 2011 alone. According to Reuters, Macon completed his final marathon of the year on New Year's Eve day, which was also the day he turned 67. Although the feat hasn't yet been submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records, his advanced age has gotten a great deal of attention. Though he insists he's no elite athlete. Reuters reported:

Macon, who said he is in "lousy" physical shape for 67, said he just "goes out there and puts one foot in front of the other" and doesn't attempt speed records. In fact, he said his fastest marathon time is four hours, 45 minutes -- twice the usual winning time.

The story is certainly an inspiration to many would-be older marathoners, but Macon isn't the only Social Security recipient who tears up the track. A growing number of senior citizens -- or even just those who've aged out of conventional sport -- are competing at major athletic events like marathons, and some are outperforming athletes half their age.

But even for older adults who are in "lousy" shape, the process of training in a sport can be excellent for health. Studies show that regular exercise and training can slow the degeneration of bone density, muscular development and balance in older adults -- three physical functions that decline with age. And although aging inevitably has a negative effect on sport performance, one 2008 study of competitors in the Senior Olympics -- age 50 to 85 -- from the American Journal of Sports Medicine, found that major declines in performance time don't occur until after age 75.

The next time a new gym class or sport seems intimidating, consider the accomplishments of some elite senior athletes, who show that aging doesn't have to be an impediment to achieving fitness goals. And you don't have to look like an elite athlete either: consider the case of John Whittemore, the oldest competing athlete, according to Ken Stone, editor of masterstrack.com and a leading expert on masters track athletes (and the editor of La Mesa Patch!): the discus and javelin thrower, competed until the age of 104 and used his walker to approach the arena during his final years of competition.

Here are seven other competitive athletes, aged 51 to 96, who are breaking records and reshaping our concept of what elite athletes looks like:

Don Pellman
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Don Pellman, age 96, holds four U.S. track records in his age group, including the 100-meter dash, and four world records. Although he did high jump in college, he told masterstrack.com that he didn't participate in dedicated exercise or sports for 58 years, save for occasional social activities like bowling, golf and softball.

When he took up track events and running after retirement, he quickly moved up the rankings, though he said there's no big secret to his success: just sensible exercise and a balanced diet. "I feel you have to keep in training 365 days a year. No off-season. I do something every day, if nothing but long brisk walks," he explained, also revealing a once-weekly shot-put or discus-throwing practice in a local park.
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