Steve Trew looks at why triath­letes are rac­ing well into old age

Triathlon Plus - - Trew Stories - Steve Trew

it­ting down to write this, to­day is the 70th birth­day of one of my best friends, my al­most-twin and triathlon su­per­star, Desi McHenry. Desi’s won three age-group world cham­pi­onship titles rep­re­sent­ing Ire­land and is still go­ing strong, train­ing and rac­ing even in his ad­vanced years.

“So what,” I hear you say. “There are loads of guys that age still rac­ing, it’s no big deal.” And that is my point ex­actly; there are still loads of us older guys still rac­ing. But it most defi nitely wasn’t al­ways like that. You see, the world has changed. Back in the day when the world was much younger than to­day, it wasn’t the done or the ac­cepted thing to be still rac­ing, still do­ing phys­i­cal ex­er­cise when you got past your mid-twen­ties. Back then you fi nished school or col­lege or univer­sity and you went out to work to

Searn a liv­ing. That was how it was, that was how it would be for­ever. Once you fi nished your ed­u­ca­tional years, the world got real; it got its own back on you, so you went out to work be­cause you had to. Any spare time that you might have had in ed­u­ca­tion just dis­ap­peared, gone for­ever. Ex­cept it wasn’t for­ever.

Now this isn’t meant to be a di­a­tribe on so­ci­ety, so­ci­ol­ogy, liv­ing stan­dards, or any­thing like that, but the world re­ally did change. I still re­mem­ber be­ing sent down to the shops a few years af­ter the Sec­ond World War clutch­ing the coupons that were needed to buy cer­tain foods. My fail­ing mind tells me that it in­cluded meat, eggs, cheese. Can you imag­ine that now? And more than a few of my lovely age-group friends will be nod­ding their heads and re­call­ing those half-for­got­ten images. The idea of ac­tu­ally mak­ing a liv­ing from pro­fes­sional sport apart from foot­ball, rugby league and a tiny number of other sports would have been lu­di­crous, it just didn’t hap­pen. And then we got richer, more healthy, had more leisure time, fewer phys­i­cal work­ing hours, and gen­er­ally more time to spend on our­selves.

I was a swim­mer through school and col­lege. Then I started teach­ing and that was it, my ca­reer took over. Swim­mers didn’t ex­ist af­ter the age of 22. Al­though, run­ning be­came my new swim­ming and so fol­lowed my early in­tro­duc­tion to triathlon. The idea back then that cham­pion Amer­i­can swim­mer Michael Phelps would span five Olympic Games from Syd­ney when he was only just past his 15th birth­day (5th in the 200 me­tres but­ter­fly) right through to Rio 2016 at the age of 31 would have been un­think­able. Think also of the USA’s An­thony Ervin who took gold in the 50 me­tres freestyle at Syd­ney at 19-years- old and then won gold again at Rio in the same event at the al­most pen­sion­able age for a swim­mer of 35! It is not just the ages com­pared to then and now, it is also the longevity of a sport­ing ca­reer. And now, of course, it is not that un­usual.

One of the dif­fer­ences is money. A pro­fes­sional swim­mer back in the Six­ties? Don’t be ridicu­lous! Pro­fes­sional swim­mer now? Yeah, why not? Why would you stop do­ing some­thing that you love when you can be paid to do it? It’s a no-brainer.

For our pro­fes­sion­als in what­ever sport there is also the sup­port team to go along with the money. Prepa­ra­tion is bet­ter, pro­fes­sional coaches are paid, in­juries are pre­vented and as a re­sult ath­letes’ ca­reers are ex­tended.

But that’s the pro game. How come our age-groupers are still go­ing strong at 50, 60 and 70 years young? The short and truth­ful an­swer is be­cause we can.

Be­cause we think dif­fer­ently to the way we did five decades years ago, be­cause we have a dif­fer­ent mind­set to back then, and be­cause we be­lieve our bod­ies can go on and on, mainly be­cause we ac­tu­ally look af­ter our­selves bet­ter. Maybe we know a lit­tle bit more, maybe we are a lit­tle bit more aware.

Or, maybe it’s as sim­ple as this: it’s be­cause we want to. At the swim ses­sion to­day at 5.55am, 18 masters’ swim­mers aged be­tween 33 and 70 years. Why were we there? Be­cause we wanted to, and be­cause we can.

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