I’m sure as children we all had dreams and aspirations of being professional or Olympic athletes. We’d sit in front of the T.V. during the summer and watch the Olympic coverage unfold. Mesmerized by world records being smashed, we’d head outside and set up neighborhood sprint races and, of course, street hockey.
Into our teens we honed skills and discovered our talents in some sports and our lack of enthusiasm in others. Some of us were fortunate to excel into collegiate level athleticism, gaining scholarships and accolades while the majority of us accepted the fact that perhaps, just perhaps, a career in professional sports wasn’t in the cards. As we say in powerlifting, “not today”.
What happens to the rest of us? Where does the athlete living inside of us go? Does it wither away or does it make a second coming, resurging with a vengeance? Enter the master athletes!
When I was in my early 20s, I would enter road races, and I often saw the “master” category and ignorantly thought that it wasn’t a very competitive category. Well here I am, many moons later, a master competitor, and I was very, very wrong. Do you know the saying, “40 is the new 20”? Yup, this is exactly the case in sports today. Allow me to throw in some data to put it in perspective. In 2013, the Canadian Powerlifting Union National Championships had 11 master women and 14 master men competing. The highest Wilks score among these 11 women was 383.5 and among the 14 men it was 420.04. In 2016, the number of competitors at the national level boomed to 60 master women competitors and 67 master men competitors. The highest Wilks score among these women in 2016 was 404.51 and 447.12 among the men. These numbers not only suggest that the sport has gained popularity but they also suggest that people over the age of 40 are getting stronger and increasingly competitive.
I will be the first to admit that exercising and competing at an older age has some disadvantages. Recovery, a word misunderstood in our twenties, is now a staple in our lives. It takes longer to recover from challenging workouts, and I’m sure we have been faced with sports injuries and other health concerns that stopped us in our tracks. There are many people dealing with herniated discs, rotator cuff repairs, carpal tunnel surgery; the laundry list goes on. When asked, these individuals unanimously replied that although they may be out of the game at the moment, they had plans to come back. They weren’t quitting, they simply needed to change their mindset, recover, and train wiser. As Sylvia Gaucher, a silver medalist at 2016 IPF Worlds Powerlifting Championships, stated, “Despite wanting to train and work hard there are days that the old body will not cooperate with my young minded will.”
Despite these challenges, we still set out goals to accomplish. Shawne Flaherty is a prime example of overcoming challenges. Born with Noonan Syndrome, a rare life threatening condition that involves heart defects, she completed the Boston Marathon earlier this year in the sweltering heat with a time of 6 hours and 22 minutes. Her love of fitness and zest for life motivates her to compete, and it shows. She’s a motivator and you’ll find her speaking at Running Room events, sharing her experiences with others. She has now completed 30 half marathons, and at the age of 48, has no time for stopping anytime soon.
What motivates each of us differs. Some of us love the competition and some of us want to keep active and healthy so that we can meet the demands of our lives. We are a sandwich generation, raising children and caring for aging parents. For Gerald Wendt, a member at Saint City Fitness, he started Crossfit at 56-years-old to support his son. Juggling a full time job, caring for an aging parent, tending to his family, and still finding time to workout have impacted his energy levels at times. Fortunately with age comes wisdom, and Gerald attributes sustainable energy levels with proper nutrition and forming good health habits. He advises the younger generation in order to age gracefully, one must form these habits earlier in life.
We are at an age where we can impact influence on our children. Instilling a healthy lifestyle at an early age is more likely to become a part of their lives as they age. We get opportunities to mentor our spawn, passing on our love of sport to them, keeping our fingers crossed that they carry that gene. Children need coaches and mentors to help guide them, and we get an opportunity to become ambassadors of our sport, passing on some wisdom to younger athletes, avoiding the same mistakes we made.
We have developed programs to help youth refine their skills. Co-founder of Farm Strong Athletics, Evan Taylor, believes it is important as an older athlete to coach and mentor upcoming youth. “If you like kids and you’re a good coach,” he jokes. Evan has been heading up the Future Champs program, which teaches youth proper Olympic lifting technique and hones this skill to harness strength, speed and power for their sport. “It’s important to pass on lessons we have learned as athletes.”
Don’t think for a second that we have stopped learning. Being a master athlete has taught us more than athleticism. It teaches us to accept our faults and treat ourselves with grace. Sylvia follows an excellent creed. “Embrace the sport and work hard, but realize there are ups and downs and you can’t be at your peak at all times.” Because of sport, our social platform is strong and we are a tight community, leaning on one another through lower times and celebrating victories at greater times. We treat each other with respect, showing empathy, and yet—allow healthy competition to brew. In competition we have mastered the delicate balance of conquer our individual goals and support in unity.
The next time you are at a race, take a look around you, look beyond the bib number. No matter the age, we have all worked hard to get to that starting line. Our challenges may be different, but we come together to celebrate our achievements. As we age, the athlete inside of us doesn’t wither away, it simply exudes in a different form with a embracing our sport, encouraging our youth and enjoying life.