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How Do They Do It? 4 Things I Learned from Near-Centenarians Competing at the Senior Olympics

By Mary Lou Harris September 12, 2019 Health and Fitness

I’ve had several months to absorb the experience of competing in the National Senior Games this summer. What continues to come to mind has nothing to do particularly with my events, but more with the participants significantly older than me.

I compete in the 70–74 age group. With downtime between some events, I had the opportunity to watch and learn from participants who were hitting up against the century mark.

There is a fun-loving side to older athletes – one of the reasons I enjoy participating in senior athletics. Along with a sense of humor, what strikes me most is the tenacity and concentration I saw in this group during the week.

I have since asked myself whether there is anything in the character, charisma, and complexity of near-centenarians that I can accommodate to my own way of being in this world and benefit from before I reach that age. I have decided, yes. Allow me to share.

Protect Our Energy

As I hit my 70s, I learned that recovery from strenuous physical activity now takes a longer period of time than it did even 10 years earlier. It is also important to go into a competition well rested.

During the Senior Games I noticed that many athletes 50+ were running short spurts around the track, warming up for various events. However, most of the older athletes kept their warm-up to a bare minimum. They were protecting their strength and energy for the moment of competition.

Most athletes in the highest age groups had family and friends with them carrying any extra equipment.

How do I waste my energy on a daily basis? How many times have I walked out the door only to realize I had left something behind? Countless. How many times have I gone up and down the stairs when it could have been done with one trip? Too many to count.

I’m not saying terrible things will happen with this waste of energy, but why not put this lesson into place and begin now to plan a bit better, to spend that extra energy in a couple more miles on the hike or taking a walk with friends?

Protect Our Time

I don’t believe you get to be a world-class athlete in your 90s without having learned to ask for help or delegate chores somewhere during those 90 years. How many of us are still learning that lesson?

Even when doing volunteer activities, it seems much easier to decline an offer for help than to push on singlehandedly. Instead, take the offer that is extended to you and gently ask another available volunteer to give a hand.

This can apply to family members as well. It can be a slow process to understand that our time is just as valuable as the time of others.

Improve Our Concentration

A friend who participated in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships this summer told me she happened to see 89-year-old Sister Buder, known as the Iron Nun, in this seriously competitive field.

As Sister Buder exited the swim she was quick and serious, moving on to the cycling portion of the competition.

What if we worked to develop Sister Buder’s concentration in our own activities? No doubt, we would not be jumping from an article in progress to peek at our email at the sound of a beep or click on the most recent post flickering across the screen.

How much more might we accomplish? How much more time might we have to prepare that dish we have been wanting to try or to take a walk outdoors at the perfect time of day?

Exhibit Tenacity

At the Senior Games expo, I stood in line waiting for a photo. Just ahead of me was a mother with her daughter. The mother was stabilizing herself with a wheeled walker, an oxygen bag strapped on. The mother, in her early 90s, was the athlete – competing in the discus throw.

As we stood waiting in line, the daughter, in an aside, told me she had suggested to her mother that maybe she shouldn’t compete this year.

But here they were, arriving only the day before her competition to spend as little time and energy at the Games as possible. They drove for five hours to avoid the stress of air travel for her mother.

Tenacity won out. I’m not suggesting any of us should continue athletic endeavors when our health reaches a certain point.

We can apply this lesson to other facets of our lives. How many times have you been told you couldn’t – or shouldn’t – continue doing an activity or traveling to a place that brings you joy? If there’s something we want to accomplish or participate in, we can find a way. That is tenacity.

What ways have you found to protect and better use your time and energy? What methods help you to improve concentration with so many competing activities that try to distract you? Please share with our community and let’s have a conversation!

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The Author

Mary Lou Harris is a proponent of active living, community volunteerism and inquisitive travel. After a post age 60 retirement from a career in public service, she expanded those interests to include ultra-trail running, hiking and extended-stay travel. She can be contacted through her website or on Twitter at @stillarunner.

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