Part of the fun of watching the Olympics are all the inspirational athletes displaying their talents. As our television screens are dominated by the sweat and tears of teens and 20-somethings (with a few exceptions of course, such as these 10 Olympic qualifiers older than 40), we at Huff/Post50 were inspired to dig up some more incredible “silver” athletes. Turns out they're out there -- in full force.
Some are competing against considerably younger athletes (for example, five-time Olympian Butch Johnson was just beat out in his sixth consecutive Olympic trial at age 56 by archers more than 40 years younger than him), but there are enough older athletes out there for them to go mano a mano in competitions such as the World Masters Athletics championships.
What is it that inspires these athletes to seemingly defy time and the effects of aging, to continue to achieve greatness well beyond the age most pros quit? "Some masters athletes are as driven as ambitious executives,” observed journalist Lee Berquist in the preface to his book, "Second Wind: The Rise of the Ageless Athlete." “But many simply find that an athletic act, executed with old bones and muscle, can give meaning to life in ways that love and religion cannot.” Bergquist speaks from experience: he was inspired to profile 18 masters athletes after his own forays into masters track and field competitions in his 40s.
Many of the inspirational athletes he spoke to were also trying to make up for failing to meet their potential in their youth, Bergquist told Huff/Post50. "Some were on an Olympic team or nearly qualified, [and that's] something that's eaten at them," he said.
These older inspirational athletes who succeed aren’t just weekend enthusiasts. "They do have an exceptional interest in health and fitness -- more so than the average person. It’s a big part of their lives," which is key to their success, Bergquist said. They also have access to a mighty resource that can help them pursue their interests. “Because of the Internet, older athletes today are able to use and employ the same expertise and training techniques that Olympic athletes use or professional athletes use," he noted.
And this is really the crux of it, according to Berquist. We can all benefit from what these particularly dedicated few have gleaned from their research into health and fitness, and their personal experiences pushing their bodies to the limit. "What these people do can help everyone be healthy," he said.
That's not to mention, of course, the inspirational value of these athletes. Check out the slideshow below for 10 athletes who are still competing and excelling; these inspirational athletes challenge us all to push ourselves a little farther and faster.
Please share your own stories with us! Send photos of you displaying your athleticism after 50 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just shy of her 50th birthday, tennis legend Martina Navratilova won a mixed doubles championship at the U.S. Open. "You can do great things regardless of your age if you just believe and, you know, go for it," <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/sports/tennis/usopen06/news/story?id=2578105" target="_hplink">she told ESPN at the time</a>. "Don't get limited by people that say, 'No, you can't do that because you're too old or because you're heavy or you're not an athlete.' Whatever your limitations might be, don't let them define you. I didn't let it define me." These are certainly words she lives by -- just days after completing radiation treatment for breast cancer, she won the senior doubles title at Wimbledon at the age of 53, <em>The New York Times</em> reports. And at 55 she went way outside of her comfort zone by <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/27/martina-navratilova-eliminated_n_1383924.html" target="_hplink">competing on "Dancing With The Stars"</a>. "I've always been set on facing my fears," <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/19/sports/la-sp-sn-martina-navratilova-dancing-with-the-stars-20120319" target="_hplink">she told <em>The Los Angeles Times</em>.</a>"[...] I'm scared of dancing, so what better way to conquer my fear of that than to go on the largest dance floor in the world and compete on 'Dancing with the Stars'!"
Eileen Philippa 'Phil' Raschker
It seems unlikely that a nearly 65-year-old accountant could be compared to the likes of <a href="http://www.spikesmag.com/features/theplanetsgreatestathlete.aspx">Usain Bolt</a>, <a href="http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-opinion/6780562/phil-raschker-master-all-masters">LeBron James and Apolo Ohno</a> for her athleticism. But Raschker, who holds 68 gold medals at the World Masters Athletics Championships and 22 World Masters Records for both outdoor and indoor events, is considered one of the best athletes in the world -- of <em>any</em> age. She's also a two-time Sullivan Award finalist and a motivator for competitors: "She's an inspiration," Mary Trotto, age 64, told ESPN. "When I compete with her, I'm actually faster."
Earlier this year Jamie Moyer became <a href="http://mlb.sbnation.com/2012/4/17/2956464/jamie-moyer-rockies-oldest-pitcher-winner-MLB-history" target="_hplink">the oldest pitcher to win a major league baseball game</a> -- he'll turn 50 this November. He's had a rough season since leaving the Rockies in May, but he told <a href="http://www.kffl.com/gnews.php?id=798649-mlb-jamie-moyer-not-calling-it-quits" target="_hplink">KFFL</a> earlier this month, "I'm not retired. I'm just kind of laying in the weeds and just trying to figure out what's going on." The lefty pitcher made his major league debut in 1986, after being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 1984 MLB amateur draft. "I tell you what, there's not a harder worker in baseball," Ruben Amaro Jr., assistant general manager for the Phillies, one of Moyer's former teams, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/sports/baseball/13moyer.html" target="_hplink">told <em>The New York Times</em></a>. As a player in his 40s, Moyer would arrive six hours before games to run on an underwater treadmill, the <em>Times</em> reports.
At age 57, Laura Sophiea has been selected by <a href="http://www.usatriathlon.org/" target="_hplink">USA Triathlon</a> as this year's "Grand Master," based on her performance as compared to other female triathletes over 55. She has completed four triathlons this year to date, and is currently the top woman in the 55-to-59 age group. "I think what motivates me is my love of racing, competing, great fitness and [the] health that comes with being in shape," she told <em>Huff/Post50</em> in an email. "I was a cheerleader in high school and never participated in sports and when I found this, I found my passion and have continued in the triathlon world for 27 years now. I am looking forward to continuing to race, compete and break age group records into my 80's!"
The 51-year-old former NFL star has been devoting his energies post-football to becoming a master's track champion. He recently set world records in his 50-to-54 age group in the <a href="http://masterstrack.com/2011/05/18418/">100- and 200-meter dashes</a>, clocking in at 10.88 and 22.44 respectively. His fame has also given a big boost to senior athletics in the public eye says Ken Stone, editor of <a href="http://masterstrack.com/" target="_hplink">masterstrack.com</a> and a leading expert on masters track athletes. "He's certainly the fastest man in the world over 50," says Stone. "His records would beat the vast majority of high school kids on the track today. In fact, he would beat the vast majority of elite women on track today: if his records were entered, he would qualify for the Olympic finals for women."
At the age of 56, <a href="http://articles.courant.com/2012-07-26/sports/hc-butch-johnson-0727-20120726_1_olympic-trials-brady-ellison-medal-quest" target="_hplink">coming in sixth in the Olympic trials</a> this past spring is not too shabby -- and London would have been Butch Johnson's sixth trip to the Olympics as a part of the U.S. archery team (He's earned team gold and an individual bronze). "I thought I had a good chance, but I knew it was going to be tough. It's a great team, and they're all shooting very good right now," he told <em>The Hartford Courant</em>.
At age 80, Whitlock ran a marathon in 3:25:04 -- a respectable time for a man one-quarter his age. His fastest recorded time, at age 73, was 2:54, <a href="http://runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=18810">according to <em>Running Times Magazine</em></a>. While he was a track star back in high school and college in his native England, Whitlock dropped the sport when he moved to northern Ontario for work. He took it back up at the age of 41 at the urging of his wife. But it isn't a virtuous dedication to his cardiovascular system that gets him out training each morning: "I run to race," <a href="http://runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=18810&PageNum=2">he insists to the <em>Running Times</em> reporter</a>. "I don't do it primarily for my health or anything else."
The 92-year-old Canadian super-athlete holds 23 world records and 17 in the 90-to-95 age bracket for track and field events, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/magazine/28athletes-t.html?_r=1&src=ISMR_HP_LO_MST_FB&pagewanted=all">according to a 2010 story in <em>New York Times Magazine</em></a>. Since that time, she has picked up seven wins at the 2011 World Masters Athletics Championships last July. Her feats of athleticism are so surprising that a team of doctors from the Montreal Neurological Institute and McGill University are studying her. They've found that her muscle tissue is deteriorating at a far slower rate than would be expected for her age. "I still have the energy I had at 50," she told <em>The New York Times</em>. "More. Where is it coming from? Honestly, I don't know. It's a mystery even to me."
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Pellmann">Don Pellman</a>, age 96, holds four U.S. track records in his age group, <a href="http://www.usatf.org/statistics/records/byEvent.asp?division=american&location=outdoor track %26 field&age=masters&eventName=all&sport=TF" target="_hplink">including the 100-meter dash</a>, 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.
"Love what you do, with no limitations!" is 83-year-old <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/24/phyllis-sues_n_1679935.html" target="_hplink">Phyllis Sues</a>' mantra. Sues was a dancer as a young woman, but at the age of 83 she picked up yoga and the tango (her dance partner, Felix Chavez, is 79). Oh, and she also dabbled in trapeze in her 80's, though she's since given that up.