Editor's Desk - September 2008
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Just a Number

“How old would you be if you
didn't know how old you were?”

—JSatchel Paige

t's thoughts like this one from Satchel Paige that finally got me out of my chair and into a pair of running shoes, at the age of 35. Since I took it up-as a mere hobby, I assure you; I don't anticipate coming in ahead of the back half of the pack in a road race any time soon-I've discovered myself growing younger, as my resting heart rate slows, my blood pressure drops and my ability to do things like turn a cartwheel to amuse the kids (though I'm not sure if they're laughing at me or with me) improves. Not to toot my own horn, but I guess I've become one of those cases in point that prove the positive effects of healthy living.

Maybe this is why I've truly relished watching the summer Olympic games unfold in Beijing this year. Or maybe it's because I've found huge enjoyment in watching competitors close to my own age compete and win medals.

Sure, there are always some older competitors in sports like equestrian, shooting and so on, and I readily acknowledge their skill, but in this case, I'm talking about the older players competing in sports where you don't really expect to see someone over 35 taking home the gold, or even the silver in some cases.

Despite the fact that we keep hearing reports that 50 is the new 40 (making 40 the new 30, 30 the new 20 and so on), we all still pretty much believe that as we age-and particularly after we reach our mid-30s-our physical abilities, flexibility, strength, stamina and so on begin to erode. We all know exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, most of the folks we know over 35 are not Olympic-caliber athletes. Heck, many of them get winded walking from the couch to the refrigerator and back!

Despite this, there were plenty of top-notch athletes at the games this year whose ages were reported with a tone of surprise by the announcers.

Dara Torres might have been one of the earliest of these we celebrated. At 41, everyone seemed shocked when she even qualified to compete. Now she is the oldest swimmer to compete for the United States, and the oldest to win a silver medal. She beat out all but one of her competitors in the Women's 50-meter Freestyle, which she lost by only 1/100th of a second, by the way. It was one of three silver medals she took home from these games.

Most inspiring to me personally, probably because she's a distance runner too, is Constantina Tomescu of Romania, who took the gold in the women's marathon, completing that race in 2 hours, 26 minutes and 44 seconds, at the age of 38, nearly half a minute ahead of 36-year-old Catherine Ndereba, who took the silver. We watched with excitement as Tomescu took the last lap around the track in the bird's nest to win her medal. (As I write this, 53-year-old Haile Satayin-the oldest marathoner to compete in the games-has yet to run in the men's marathon. He's not expected to medal, but just to qualify is pretty impressive.)

OK, there are plenty of over-35 marathoners. Let's look at a sport that we really associate with youth. How about gymnastics? While the much-discussed age discrepancies of the Chinese gymnasts was a big story-many arguing that based on past records, some were too young to compete in these games-what about the other end of the age spectrum? How about 33-year-old Oksana Chusovitina, competing for Germany in her fifth Olympics? At more than twice the age of some of her fellow competitors, she took home the silver medal in the vault. Yes, a 33-year-old gymnast, competing in the Olympics.

These are just three women-and all mothers, too-who surprised us with their outstanding, medal-winning performances. But turning back to our own sports, recreation and fitness facilities, how can we apply the lessons we've learned here?

Study after study has shown that the more active we remain as we age, the longer we'll get to hang around. Record-breaking athletes of all ages at the Olympic games can be held up as examples for all of our players, members, patrons and community members, as a way to encourage participation and involvement in the programs we offer.

For facility managers, perhaps you can highlight some of these examples as you strive to encourage greater levels of activity among your own patrons. Maybe you can take a note from the Olympic playbook and create your own competition-encouraging wanna-be athletes of all ages to "go for the gold."

For myself, I've learned that even though I'm the turtle now, that doesn't mean I won't be the hare tomorrow.


Emily Tipping

Editorial Director


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