You Don’t Stop Playing Because You Get Old

I’ve been inspired recently by some news stories of people pursuing very athletic endeavors into their later years.  For example, the cover of a recent Washington Post magazine featured Ernestine Shepherd (and her six pack of abs.)  Ernestine is the oldest competitive bodybuilder in the world (at age 74.)  The best quote from the article . . . “Age is nothing but a number.”

Then my friend, Mark “The Spa Man” McKenney sent me an article from the Miami Herald about Ernest Lang, a man who decided to take up competitive rowing at 65 years of age.  The fact that he began a new sport at age 65 was not, in fact, the most exciting part of the article.  The most exciting part is that he has been rowing now for 25 years and still going strong today at 90!  In that time he has won several medals and accolades, participating in several competitions both in his Hungarian homeland and internationally.  By the way, at 90, Lang does not qualify as the oldest competitive rower in the world.  Charles Eugster of Switzerland has him beat at 91. Clearly, the rowing probably has a lot to do with their longevity and continued vitality. 

Another friend of mine Caroline Miller (who is an inspiration herself and the author of “Creating Your Best Life,” the top research based book on goal setting and accomplishment,) sent me an article about Diana Nyad, a 61 year old woman who still turns heads in her swimsuit and is training to swim from Cuba to Florida.  When people suggest that she should slow down due to her age she says, “Oh.  My age.  I forgot.”

On a personal level, I love these stories because I continue (in my 40’s) to pursue my own passions for surfing and competitive beach volleyball.  I did not grow up pursuing these sports, but I picked them both up in my 30’s and they have brought me so much joy over the past decade.  Volleyball, in particular, has been a driving force, motivating me to stay healthy to perform at my best and ultimately being a hub for my social life, connecting me with other active people who are around my age. 

There is something about this lifestyle around a passion for sport that brings people together.  I’ve noticed how I connect with other people in the spa industry who pursue similar passions.  Frank Pitsikalis, CEO of Resort Suite, plays in a competitive ice hockey league at age 43.  Edwin Neill, 49, of the Neill Corporation and former president of the ISPA Foundation is an avid wakeboarder.   Susan Wheeler, who has been the Spa Director at The Equinox Resort in Vermont for 24 years is a competitive equestrienne and still winning ribbons at age 59.   Gupindar Mahal, the CEO of Lifestyle International, a spa management and consulting firm based in Malaysia is a regular cricket player at 51. 

A good friend of mine, Ann Brown, Spa Director at Spa Shiki, turns 44 this month although she looks like she’s 24 thanks to pursuing an avid fitness lifestyle.  She used to work out in a gym because she liked being able to use machines that would help her measure her progress (see my article on “Personal Biological Monitoring.”)  But now she is broadening her boundaries and experimenting with activities that she can do outdoors like kayaking, cycling and yoga.  Her mantra is “age is an attitude.”

One of the things I love about working in the spa industry is connecting with these energetic people who live lifestyles that transcend age.   Anytime I get together with these industry colleagues, I will ask them about these activities and you can instantly see their eyes light up.  It is easy for me to share in their joy . . . I know exactly what it feels like.

Another inspirational character from the spa industry is Sheila Cluff (who was also featured in my article on “positive health.”)  Sheila is now 75 years old and practices figure skating (this boggles my mind because I know how hard a fall on the ice can be.)   It is important to note that Sheila has not been skating her whole life.  She just picked it up again in 2005 after taking a 45 year absence from the rink.  Talk about a comeback!  In her youth, however, she practically invented aerobics by combining the music and movements of figure skating with fitness exercises on a gymnasium floor.

If you read this blog, you know I feel strongly that physical fitness is an important part of flourishing.  That is only magnified when the physical activity is combined with a personal passion for sport and play and with the social aspect of sharing an activity with other like minded people.  When I hear these inspiring stories of people pursuing a passion for physical sport throughout their lifespan, it reminds me of the old refrain that I often hear from my own friends on the volleyball court:  “You don’t stop playing because you get old . . . You get old because you stop playing.”

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11 Responses to You Don’t Stop Playing Because You Get Old

  1. Mark Franklin July 12, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    Amazing stories Jeremy, thanks for sharing them. I’m particularly interested in the link between overall wellbeing and career happiness. Here’s another for you… Renee Barda was a world class soprano in her 20s but got married and the husband didn’t want his wife to work. Decades later after his death, urged by the adult kids, she returned to the stage in her 60s. More vibrant than ever! Her story on a recent Career Buzz radio interview Have a listen!


  2. Taylor Walsh July 12, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Jeremy, another great overview of What is Possible. It brings to mind – in an odd way – the physical aspirations of another era, the one in which my grandfather came of age, at the turn of the 20th century. In those days, prosperous men adopted a portly (they thought robust) appearance, eating lots of steak and little vegetables later to expire in their mid-50’s.

    There is something of a distinction between “play” and athletic competition, in pick-up b-ball or hockey games, or even equestrian. Competitive juices are good, and different than play juices, if such a thing exists.

  3. Marie-Josee Shaar July 12, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more! Rather than focus on comfort and convenience, the people of the stories you narrate chose excitement and adventure, and are that much stronger for it. What an inspiration! Beautiful post, J!

  4. Jeremy McCarthy (@jeremymcc) July 12, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    Thanks Mark! I was hoping people would read this and share other stories. I am working on a training program right now on the idea of “job crafting.” I’m sure I will be writing about that on the blog at some point. In the meantime I will check out your site and follow you back on twitter! Thanks!

  5. Jeremy McCarthy (@jeremymcc) July 12, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    Thanks Taylor, Your comments on the different attitudes towards wellness between us and our grandparents remind me of a talk I recently heard where Philippe Bourgignon of Miraval spoke on wellness trends. One thing that he mentioned was the difference between what a vacation is now compared to 50+ years ago. It used to be that “work” meant physical activity and so vacation was a time to rest. Today, “work” is sedentary activity and so when people go on vacation they want to move their body.

    I agree with you on the distinction between play and competition and I think it has something to do with the level of challenge you confront. “Flow” requires both skill and challenge so sometimes a competitive environment creates a sufficient level of challenge to more easily obtain a state of flow.

  6. Jeremy McCarthy (@jeremymcc) July 12, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    Thanks MJ, your own passion for a fitness lifestyle is pretty inspiring too!

  7. Mark A McKenney July 12, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    First off, thank you for the mention. It looks that you are always right on the pulse of what is happening in spa and wellbeing especially with this article (I liked the Zombie analogy too!). Yes I am in my forties also and keenly aware of my health and how it relates to my over all wellness. Working in my prior profession it was about the latest item of clothing, the utmost in “the best” or the most expensive fashions. This was living in the outside world.
    Eleven years ago I sarted the journey working with the Upledger Institute in Palm Beach Gardens to ‘move in’ and work on the inside and combine all aspects of wellness in your persona. By doing it for myself I would want to espouse the same to others without preaching. Now more than ever I want to make sure that physical fitness is a big part of my daily routine, watch what I eat and do the rest of my wellness practices. I am always looking for stories like the ones you mentioned in this articles for inspiration and guidance.
    As usual keep up the good articles and work in the spa and wellness arena so that you may inspire more people to achieve thier own greatness through movement and all aspects of being human.

    Dallas, TX

  8. charles wills July 18, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    At 55 you have to love seeing the other person clearly older doing the same sport your into. Your always drawn to them and sooner or later that Question pops up, How old are you?

    4 years ago in Jamaica while playing basketball nightly and coaching a High School team in the late afternoons I was asked by a Men’s team if I could help them out? In Jamaica a men’s team is normally aged between 19 and 34, and then as the say in Jamaica “Your put out to pasture.”.
    After the 3rd game everyone was playing a tight zone against us so at practice we had a competition for shooting Three pointers.

    Well I won and the team decided I needed to enter the game and hit a few to take them out of that zone. In international rules you can substitute on any dead ball quickly. Well, while it didn’t always work out the way we planned something really great happen the next season..Lots of Jamacians that had stopped playing ball came out of the wood work and a bunch of 35 and much older guys even formed a new team in the league.

    If you wish I have a photo of the men’s team on my facebook page at The Charles Wills Wellness System under photo’s Wellness work and fun.

    Bottom line.. You are what You Think you are!

  9. Jeremy McCarthy July 18, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    Charles, that is a great story. Thank you for sharing it!

  10. Gord Hunter October 8, 2012 at 12:13 am #

    I came across this blog while searching for the origin of the saying “you don’t slow down because you get old; you get old because you slow down.” I first heard it from an 85 year old sprinter being interviewed at the World Masters Games in Edmonton in 2005. He had just won his age class in the 100 metres.
    What is surprising to me is that there are so many commentiny here, supposedly in the fitness industry, that are now marvelling at their discovery of senior athletes.
    43 year old hockey player? Pshaw! In Canada there are hockey players over 60 in the thousands. Similar with rugby players in Australia, basketballers in the USA, etc.


  1. How to Be Healthy Like a Marathon Runner - April 9, 2012

    […] Think it’s too late for you to embark on the health journey? Blogger extraordinaire Jeremy McCarthy makes a compelling argument to prove just the opposite in You Don’t Stop Playing Because You Get Old.  […]

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