With the Winter Olympics in full swing, I’ve recently been asked, “Are there any late-blooming Olympians?”
In most sports, “late-blooming” means age 25. But we do have a few luminaries:
- At age 40, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Sweden just became oldest Winter Games Gold medal winner for biathalon.
- At age 60, his countryman, Oscar Swahn, brought home two 1908 Gold medals in shooting. Oscar won his last medal, a Silver, at age 72, making him the oldest medalist.
- At age 61, Joshua Millner of Britain also won a 1908 Gold medal for shooting.
- And, at age 41, Dara Torres made a huge comeback to win three Silver medals in swimming at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Of course, these Olympians started young and kept going into their later decades. But I have discovered a dozen amazing athletes who started in their 40s and beyond, such as:
Cheryl Ragsdale—Boxer (54)
I’ve completed my first 50 years. During my second half, I’m looking forward to deepening my love of life.
Cheryl’s been a flight attendant, a Jenny Craig supervisor and a healthcare industry consultant. Somewhere in there, she earned an MBA from Harvard.
Cheryl began boxing at age 49. Then she fell in love with mixed martial arts. A year later, she took up jiu-jitsu and muay thai kickboxing.
Now age 52, she has remade herself as a full-time blogger at Who Do You Respect?
Tosca Reno—Fitness Professional (55)
The human body is made to move, to shine, to bend, to make love, to jump, to run, and to do all these things as long as we have the health and will to do so.
Tosca was once a 40-something, 204-lb teacher going through a painful divorce. She lost weight using a treadmill, but was still flabby.
Fitness publisher Robert Kennedy, the father of one of her students, challenged her to weight train and enter a physique contest. As she got stronger and more confident, she also submitted articles to him.
In a fairytale ending, she married Kennedy. They had many good years together before he passed away in 2012.
Today, at age 55, Tosca’s in her best shape ever and has become a one-woman fitness industry.
Tosca blogs at ToscaReno.com.
Lynne Knutson—Mountain Climber (65)
Life gets more exciting and focused as you age. You can have dreams and set goals bigger than you ever thought possible.
Motherhood behind her, Lynne went looking for her next adventure.
One day, she came across a photo of women summiting an African mountain through the Peaks Foundation, a non-profit that “organizes global mountain challenges for women who seek adventure, a sense of personal achievement, and an opportunity to make a positive difference in the world.” She was transfixed.
She signed up, even though she’d lately been a couch potato. At age 63, after training for a year, Lynne climbed three African peaks in three weeks (including Mt. Kilimanjaro), raising over $13,000 for charity.
Expand Outdoors published the full interview with Lynne.
Ed Earle—Competitive Kayaker (74)
The intangible is you’ve got to have a will that’s like iron.
Ed didn’t take to the water until age 40.
It was originally a way to bond with this teenage son. “We were going to buy a sailboat but it was too costly, so we bought a canoe, and we started racing together.”
His son lost interest, but Earle transitioned to kayaking. It became his passion. At age 50, he competed in the Nationals.
By age 72, Ed had won the Run of the Charles Open Canoe and Kayak Race for the past three years.
How does he compete with paddlers 30 to 40 years his junior? Earle cites his “will of iron” to keep improving, which in turn keeps him fit. “I don’t feel 72. I feel probably more like I’m 48 or 52.”
Ray Moon—Oldest Competing Bodybuilder (83)
The thing in life is it’s amazing what you can do when you try it.
By his late 70s, Ray Moon had suffered through polio, meningitis, two strokes and open heart surgery.
He’d been an acclaimed chef and restaurateur for six decades, even cooked for the Queen, but he was ready to give up.
One day he walked by a gym. “What have I got to lose?” he thought, and signed up. Graeme Lancefield, the owner and a former Mr. Universe, became his personal trainer.
Bodybuilding has transformed Ray’s life. He’s won four Australian amateur bodybuilding contests. Two years ago, the Guiness Book named him the World’s Oldest Competing Bodybuilder.
Now age 84, Ray hopes one day meet the oldest female bodybuilder. “I bet she’s overseas though.”
Gladys Burrill—Oldest Female Marathon Finisher (94)
Dream about things you want to do in the future, even if they’re impossible. It keeps you going.
Gladys has been an aircraft pilot, a desert hiker and a horseback rider. She ran her first Honolulu Marathon in 2004 at age 86, and has completed five of her last seven.
In 2008, her husband of 69 years and biggest supporter passed away just days before the race. She decided to run in his memory, but understandably couldn’t make it.
In 2009, she pulled out at mile 16 with stomach cramps.
But in 2010, at age 92, Gladys did it! The Guinness Book has named her Oldest Female Marathon Finisher. (That’s her in the first image above.)
Gladys doesn’t plan to compete this year, but she still walks six days a week, logging between 30 and 50 miles.
When it comes to fitness, the journey of a thousand miles really does start with a single step.