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Out There: Growing Bolder

Posted by: on October, 16 2015

Found on Competitor.com and written by Susan Lacke

There’s a lot to fear about aging—a creaky body, wrinkly skin, and hourly utterances of “where did I put my glasses?” I’ve always equated aging with feeble and frail —two conditions I’d like to avoid at all costs.

But recently, I saw aging in a different form—specifically, the form of my mother-in-law in spandex.Old-Runner

It all started last month, when my husband’s mom, Marilyn, turned 60. To mark the occasion, she announced she would race her very first triathlon.

“Why should you guys get to have all the fun?” She pointed at her kids—who, combined, have recorded more than 100 marathon and 20 Ironman finishes. “It’s my turn now.”

We were supportive, of course, but when she revealed the race she selected was part of the Huntsman World Senior Games, we couldn’t help but make jokes:

“Will there be a Hoveround division?”

“Is it doping if you put fiber powder in your water bottles?”

“I bet the finisher medals have a built-in Life Alert button.”

Marilyn, however, was undaunted. “Joke all you want. I’m too old to care what anyone thinks of me.” As she walked off, you could hear her muttering, “Now where did I put my glasses?”

The Huntsman World Senior Games is an annual sporting event for seniors, who compete in everything from track and field to square dancing. Because Huntsman competitors range from 50 to 100 years old, when I arrived to the Games to cheer on my mother-in-law, I expected to see a lot of…well, old people.

Instead, I saw a 74-year-old woman running a half marathon in 2 hours and 14 minutes, an 86-year-old man competing in the triple jump, and a 90-year-old woman hopping into the pool to race the 50-meter backstroke.

This is aging? Sign me up.

What was particularly surprising about these competitors was not how spry they were for their age, but that so many of them got a late start. Like Marilyn, many competitors started their new sport later in life, because, as one 75-year-old competitor put it, “What else am I supposed to do for the next 20 years? Knit?”

Yes, aging sucks sometimes, many competitors admitted. There are aches and wrinkles and forgetful moments. There are idiots who think it’s funny to make jokes about the elderly (ahem).

But growing older is also awesome. After 60-plus years of caring what other people think, most of these competitors finally stopped giving a damn. The insecurity of youth—looking a certain way, acting their age, keeping up with the Joneses—eventually gave way to the realization that none of it matters. They can do what they want, and they don’t really care what anyone thinks.

Instead of criticizing their 30-year-old bodies in the mirror, they proudly display their 60-year-old flesh in a spandex suit and dive into the pool with a smile. Instead of wasting time on “appropriate” pursuits they don’t really enjoy, they take on the hobbies that really interest them. Instead of avoiding Father Time, they welcome him—and possibly challenge him to a push-up contest.

I’m too old to care what anyone thinks of me. Who knew aging could be so liberating?