Older Cyclists Defying Age And Expectations

Male Cyclist

One of the plusses of being human can also be a minus, namely anticipation. Using memory and reason, humans can project possible outcomes into the future. Anticipating in this way is commonly known as “expectations.’

Not all expectations are individual expectations. Some expectations are so common, they become part of the fabric of a society. Most of life’s milestones fall into this category.

Among the most common and universal of all human expectations is the process of decrepitude that accompanies aging. Aging is associated with decline.

Strength diminishes, hearing and eyesight worsen, cognitive function declines, and overall, one becomes more frail. Or does one?

The thing about expectations is that they can be wrong some of the time or even all of the time. This is because they are projections based on individual or collective experiences and beliefs, both of which can be wrongly applied to others or simply defied.

For this reason, it is sometimes best to ignore expectations and to live as if they weren’t fate.

Some people do just this. They live as they always did, despite advancing age. And they manage to perform feats many people years younger than them could not do.

I became aware of this the other day when I stumbled upon a news snippet reporting the results of an athletic competition. Here I saw a blurb about who to watch in upcoming events.

The cycling events caught my eye, so I read on:

“Who to watch: Eleanor Hamre of Colorado and Phyllis Goodlad of Florida swept the cycling events in the 75-79 and 80-84 age divisions, respectively, in the 2011 National Senior Games in Houston and will compete in all four races again this year. Eric Lippens of Florida nearly became the only male to sweep the cycling events in Houston, but finished second to Gary Hickey of Dayton in the 10K time trial. Lippens will try for all four gold medals this year in the 65-69 age division.”

I did a double-take, being sure to take a sip of coffee to read it better the second time around. Did that say 80-84 age division? Not possible. It seemed impossibly old for road racing.

After rereading it and determining that this was not a joke, I read through the news of this event and visited the event’s main website for more information. They weren’t kidding. The upcoming events were part of the National Senior Games. Who knew that they had Olympics type events for senior citizens? Probably no one other than the athletes’ families.

All kidding aside, I did know about athletic competitions for older athletes. But, I wasn’t aware of any road races for people in their 70’s and 80’s.

Out of curiosity, I browsed through the National Senior Games Association’s website. A wealth of information was to be had about the Senior Games.

Of course, I wanted to know more about the cycling competition, so I viewed the record holder’s lists. The 40k race was of particular interest because most people assume that senior citizen athletes wouldn’t be able to maintain a fast pace over a long distance, let’s say, more than a few miles. 40k is approximately 25 miles.

One woman mentioned in the article for the 80-84 year old age division, Phyllis Goodlad, held the record for this event. In 2007, she completed the 40k course in 1:37:40.45. Yes, you read correctly. A woman in her 80’s covered a distance of 25 miles in just over 1 hour 37 minutes — unbelievable!

What’s even more unbelievable is that another female cycling competitor in that age group, Jody Olson, finished the course less than a minute slower than the record holder with a time of 1:38:01.29. That makes two women in their 80’s who finished a 40k course in under 1 hour 40 minutes. I know people in their 30’s who can’t ride that fast for such a long distance.

No one I know competes in senior competitions, so I don’t know much about who these athletes are. Some of them must have competed in athletic events when they were younger, and were probably in better condition than the average person to begin with.

Even so, these cyclists, and all of the other athletes competing in the National Senior Games are proof that aging doesn’t always mean slowing down. And it doesn’t mean that we must deteriorate and accept doing less than we did when we were younger.

Maybe, as my maternal grandmother always used to say, “age is just a frame of mind.” If we don’t expect to fall apart with age, perhaps we won’t. At any rate, thinking positively and using these senior athletes as inspiration certainly can’t hurt.

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