No Longer the Sole Domain of the Young
by Andrew Sixsmith
In 2008 I had the honor to represent Great Britain in the International Triathlon Union’s world championships which were held at English Bay, Vancouver in June. In November I also competed in the Ironman 70.3 world championships is Clearwater, Fl. Clearwater is a great place to race triathlon- white sand beaches and palm trees, plenty of sunshine and not too hot in November
The really great thing about triathlon, and what makes it interesting from a gerontological point of view, is that while all competitors race head to head in the same race, they also compete within five year age/sex groups. This kind of format is typical within endurance running races such as marathons and half-marathons. The benefit is that participation in sport and competition is opened up and encouraged for all ages and is not the sole domain of the young.
My own participation in triathlon is not untypical. I hated track and field when I was young, although I liked to ride my bike. As I got a little older I liked to swim and run, although this was not competitive until I decided in my 40s to take on a new challenge and train for a triathlon. My inspiration was a BBC documentary of a woman in England who had decided in her 60s to take up the sport- a clear case of “well, if she can do it….”. Since these tentative steps, I have represented GB as an age-grouper on six occasions finishing 5th in Vancouver 2008 and overall 3rd in the GB national rankings in 2004 in the 45 age category, as well as racing in five ironman and numerous half-iron races.
Triathlon provides a meaningful focus for exercising and being active, i.e. it is not just a matter of doing exercise for the sake of it. I also have to admit to secretly (and not-so-secretly) enjoying beating athletes who are 20 years younger. Challenging oneself is a major part of the sport and seeing your own personal records and race times improving over the years runs counter to the common sense notion that you slow down as you age.
You may also be interested in reading Andrew’s interview with The Iron Nun, Sister Madonna.
About the Author: Andrew Sixsmith is the director of the SFU Gerotology Research Centre.