Going for the Old

Going for the Old

My days of competing in the Olympic Games and going for the Gold are long, long gone.  But that doesn’t mean my days of competing are over, even though I am just a few months shy from turning 60. Now I am going for the “Old”.Training for and competing in Masters Track & Field is completely different than training and competing in the same sport as a young man that has yet to fulfil his potential.You might think getting and staying in shape is the hardest challenge as the body ages, loses muscle mass, tightens up and takes longer to recover from training and injuries, but it is not.  While yes, the physical component is extremely difficult, it is the physiological aspect that is far more challenging.Imagine putting your energy, effort, and time into something knowing that you are going to get worse – guaranteed – and also face increased risk of injury.  How motivated would you be? Who would even bother? Well, that’s what Masters Athletes must deal with. Everything is quantified: Everything is measured or timed. You can compare your strength level, flexibility, explosive power, and speed to what you’ve done before, whether it’s last year or last millennium.  And it is going to be less. It’s going to be worse. You can be in good shape, especially for your age, and look good physically but your gradual, regression – or maybe not so gradual – can be easily documented. As a Masters Athlete I put myself out there for everyone to see and be judged by the tape measure.

Young athletes have the future in front of them with limitless potential and possibilities. The sky’s the limit. Their bodies are growing, becoming stronger, faster, fitter, and more proficient in their chosen sport and skill.  Everything is forward looking. There is more future in front of them then past. Olympians and Paralympians are examples of what is humanly possible when we push ourselves in the physical and competitive realm. They are physical specimens that have mastered their craft, overcoming enormous challenges to be among the very best in the world. They represent youth, excellence and are examples of what is humanly possible.

Being a Masters Athlete requires a very different physical and phycological approach. As a Masters Athlete I celebrate being alive and still being able to be physically active and capable of competing, albeit at a lower level than in my youth. At 59 years old and rapidly closing in on 60, I think it’s safe to say I’ve passed the halfway point in my life – way, way passed it. There is less runway in front of me then behind.

I have competed in 2 Olympic Games, been an alternate for another 2 and competed in 8 Olympic Trials and broken National, International and World Records as a young man and elite athlete.

As a Masters Athlete I have broken over 30 Official and unofficial World Records for throwing a variety of objects from cell phones to vinyl records. I have also broken World Masters Records in the men’s javelin for over 45, over 50 and over 55-year age groups – of which I still hold the last two.

The 60+ Javelin World Age Group Record I am now aiming for is going to be a real challenge.  My body is changing and aging day by day. I am trying to hold on to what I have now and claw back some of what I used to have. It’s a struggle – physically, mentally, emotionally. It feels like I am walking up a down escalator that is getting faster with steps that are getting bigger and bigger. It’s frustrating, demoralizing and physically and psychologically exhausting.

I have always approached my athletic career and my sport of spear chucking as solving a constantly changing puzzle. I work on the pieces – endurance, fitness, strength, speed, power, flexibility, technique and timing – and then fit them together to create the best result. What is puzzling (pun intended) is some of the pieces are still good, whereas others not so much. The result is that the pieces are not creating a clear picture, at least not the one I am shooting for. The pieces are creating a different picture.

We’ve all heard the expression the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly expecting a different result. So, using that same logic, sanity would be doing the same thing and getting the same result, right? Unfortunately, while I consider myself sane my age is not allowing me to do the same kind of training that I used to do. My age is becoming more and more of a limiting factor. This is where creativity plays such a crucial role in how to modify my training program and exercises to make allowances for my age.

One of the things I am having the hardest time with regard my age is now hearing about all the former athletes of my generation that are dying – some a few years older, others younger. Add to that all the friends, and family that have died, had strokes, heart attacks, transplants, and cancer the last few years it becomes quite depressing.

The way I look at it is that I am alive, I am healthy and embracing life. If we are fortunate, we get to grow old, and death is part of life. I have always pushed myself in everything I do as an athlete and as an artist to find where my limits are and not be restricted to other’s arbitrary predetermined boundaries.  Now more than ever as an old athlete that still hold true as I “Go for the Old”.

No young up and coming athlete aspires to be a Masters Athlete. They want to be an Olympian or Paralympian, a professional athlete, or World Champion. But my 50-year journey from Olympic athlete to master’s athletics have some notable takeaways for athletes of all ages:

  • Always warm up – don’t mistake youth and/or warm weather for a good warm up.
  • Listen to your body – it talks to you and will tell you when you are over training and fatigued.
  • Use your creativity – to work around injuries and age-related factors you must continuously adapt, modify, and make changes to how you train.
  • Set & Reset Goals – no matter your age you need specific short, mid, and long-term goals.
  • Embrace the unknown / expect the unexpected – things happen throughout our entire life that we didn’t plan on.
  • Have fun and enjoy every day and celebrate every moment you are alive, healthy and can be physically active and train and compete.

I have set my goal for next year and am now working towards making it a reality.  I have no idea if l can do it – nothing is guaranteed in life at any age. It’s about doing the work, having faith, and believing in yourself as Jason Sudeikis playing Coach Ted Lasso says in the Apple TV series.

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