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Are We Outliers or the Future Norm?

Like many others, my viewing of the Winter Olympics was scant. I did catch some of the beauty and athleticism of the pairs figure skating. I also tuned in to the last day for the women’s downhill skiing. It was exhilarating to watch the skill and speed with which these women descended the course.

More than viewing, I caught enough news tidbits, with several comments on the age of the participants. Some observers appeared to be astonished by the age range and the tenacity of athletes who had participated in previous Olympics, albeit at a much younger age.

The coverage got me thinking. Are the outstanding older women of the Olympics simply outliers, or are they our future?

Older Participants

For instance, the oldest female participant in the 2022 Winter Olympics was Claudia Pechstein. Pechstein, a speed skater for Germany, had participated in five previous Olympic Games where over those years she was awarded gold, silver and bronze medals.

Medals were not in reach this year, as Pechstein was the last finisher in the competition. Still, in this year’s Olympics she finished last while breaking age barriers and finding new ways to compete. And, according to her Wikipedia page, she has taken up competitive cycling.

Young by comparison with Pechstein’s 50 years, Lindsey Jacobellis, at age 36, was the oldest American female participating in the Olympics and doing so in the relatively new sport of snowboarding. Along with the oldest American male participant Nick Baumgartner, at age 40, she won the gold medal at the mixed team snowboard cross competition.

Earlier in Beijing, Jacobellis became the oldest American woman to win a gold medal at the Winter Games, placing first in the women’s snowboard cross.

Not that either Pechstein or Jacobellis are anywhere near age 60. The point is that they are not willing to bow to an arbitrary age when they continue to enjoy the competition, their activity, their profession.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum there are women who are finding new activities and passions. Take for instance Julia Hawkins who recently set a new track record at age 105. Julia continues to see herself as an athlete. She competed in cycling earlier in her life. At the suggestion of her son, she began running track at around age 100.

At the Louisiana State Games this year, she set a goal for herself to run the 100-meter event in under a minute. She set a record but just shy of her goal, finished in one minute and two seconds. Hawkins plans to try again for her goal at the National Senior Games scheduled in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in early May. This time she will be competing as a 106-year-old.

Be Open to Changing Your Goals

Maybe you were the best of the best in your professional or athletic pursuits, or any chosen profession. As we move through life, whether we continue to enjoy doing what we did in the past or whether we are ready to move on to another interest or profession, can we be content at setting a different goal than we might have when we were 20 – or maybe 40 – years younger?

Can We Apply the Goals of Athletes as They Age to the Goals of Any Other Profession or Pursuit?

Have you continued in a career you dearly love when your opportunities for growth have plateaued? When you no longer can reasonably expect to be in the top position but love the work and those you work with, can you continue with toned-down expectations and a smile on your face as Pechstein did in Beijing?

Are you willing to continue to work to be the best in your field, even when the career field is young and your colleagues even younger, and perhaps neither existed 30 years ago? Think Jacobellis and Baumgartner in their late 30s competing in a sport that has only been an Olympic event since 1998.

Have you been an age outlier in any aspect of your life? When you (finally) finished an education goal, when you started your own business or when you decided to continue in a pursuit when everyone else your age had retired to their corner?

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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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