A Dozen Late-Blooming Athletes To Get You Going

With the Winter Olympics in full swing, I’ve 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.

Boxer Cheryl Ragsdale, age 51Cheryl’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 Earle, Competitive KayakerEd 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.

Ray Moon, Oldest Competing BodybuilderBy 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.

Need more inspiration? On to the next half-dozen:

31 Responses

  1. Daniela Gitlin
    | Reply

    Have they inspired me? Heck yes! Great post!

    • Debra Eve

      Yay! Then I’ve done my job for the day!

    • mehdi

      I am 32 and a Muay Thai athlete, there is a kickboxing chmpionship ahead and i know myself too old for the competition, with this post, no doubt i will go and do great, thanks for the post

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      Good luck, Mehdi. I used to do Muay Thai. It’s a tough sport, but you’ll do great!

  2. What great stories!!!

    Like you, I’ve been sidelined with chronic illness and some days I’m challenged to just get out of bed, but the point is that it’s never too late to be better and take that “single step”.

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, Patricia. Chronic pain has taught me so much about accepting myself where I am. Here’s to those baby steps!

  3. Marianne
    | Reply

    Such great inspiration, Elle! I use to walk 5km every day and work out at the gym before the RA went out of control. That was almost 7 years ago. I too, look forward to being fitter next year. It is such a loss to experience health issues, but I resolved to bombard my body with high nutrition, natural supplements, herbs as well as prescription meds this year to see if it will have any affect on improving my quality of life.

    Hang in there, Elle and I’ll try too.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Elle B.

      Thanks for stopping by, Marianne! It’s been about seven years for me too. Read your recent blog post and will be in touch!

  4. David Stevens
    | Reply

    Good stuff ElleB,
    One of my goals is to be as fit @70 as I was @ 40.
    be good to yourself

    • Debra Eve

      It’s certainly possibly, David. These folks have proved it. I think a few are in better shape than they were at 40. Thanks for stopping by!

    • David Stevens

      I’m turning ‘possible’ into ‘probable’.
      be good to yourself

    • Debra Eve

      That’s what I meant! 🙂

  5. Gene Lempp
    | Reply

    Great post, Elle! Very inspirational, now I have to go say hi to my treadmill.

    • Elle B.

      Thanks, Gene! My impetus — I’m just starting out on my creative journey and still want to be at it in 90 years.

  6. Bob F.
    | Reply

    When I turned 50, I told my wife: “Okay, I’m fifty now. I never have to diet or exercise again.” And so I cheerfully got fatter and more out of shape. She put up with it for three years and finally said No, I am vetoing your decision.

    So, at 53, it was back to diet and exercise for me. I do look and feel better.

    But sure miss cheeseburgers… 🙂

    • Debra Eve

      U can still haz cheezburger, Bob :} — just not everyday. I feel better for the exercise program too. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Lisa Rothstein
    | Reply

    LOVE LOVE LOVE your site! I found it at just the right time as a big birthday is fast approaching. I was an early bloomer, but want to be a late bloomer too and get a second harvest in 🙂 I’m your newest subscriber.

    I also see lots of synergies between your site and ours (http://www.DavinciDilemma.com) so let’s keep in touch. Are you planning a book, too? (We are.)

    Brava on a wonderful, beautifully written and designed site — that will give comfort and inspiration to a lot of people.

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, Lisa! I already subscribe to your blog and do see the synergies. Definitely planning a book. In the blog’s next phase, I’d like coaches and other experts weigh in on strategies for becoming a late bloomer in order to supplement the bios. I don’t have that knowledge, but it would be helpful for my audience. Let’s definitely keep in touch!

  8. Dave Doolin
    | Reply

    It won’t be possible for me get to all-time, that was when I was 28-29 in the Marine Corps. But I can certainly get in much, much better shape than I’m in now.

    • Debra Eve

      I was in phenomenal shape at one time too, Dave, as a martial artist (jeet kune do). I fantasize about getting back there, but it’s not realistic. But like you said, it’s about starting from where you are now. Sigh. Thanks for the comment!

  9. Rona
    | Reply

    Hi Elle,
    This late bloomers story resonates with me. I have always believed that anything is possible if we don’t let age be a part of the equation…….a road block to progress.
    I love your approach to honoring those who keep striving and pushing their envelope. Kudos to you!

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, Rona. I have the greatest admiration for people who keep fit well into “middle age” and certainly want to be one of them!

  10. Lyvier Rivera
    | Reply

    Hi there!
    I am so glad that I stumbled upon your book on Amazon. Last night i was in a bit of a daze and just searching for something inpsiring. I tend to go up and down with my life; basically wondering, “what the hell am i doing?” I am 38 and in January I signed up to do roller derby. Since then, my friend and I have managed to create a team comprised of 25 women from two towns and we practice two times a week. I have been working so hard to lose the baby weight and have been slowly doing it, but derby has pushed my weight loss to a new level. Reading about these athletes makes me feel “normal” and that I am doing the right thing for me. It seems to not only inspire me but inspire many other women in the community. So, again, thanks for the inspiration, that extra burst of air in my lungs is much appreciated.

    • Debra Eve

      Lyvier, I’m so jealous. I so want to do roller derby! I used to be such a skater. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise — you’re doing a phenomenal thing. If you’d like to tell your story here, please write it up and send it to me (with photos) 🙂

  11. Debra Eve
    | Reply

    Thanks, David. I might be good to myself with some French cooking this weekend!

  12. Jennette Marie Powell
    | Reply

    These people are amazing! Definitely inspiring, especially when aches and pains threaten to keep me sidelined and it’s a challenge just to get to the treadmill.

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      Thanks, Jennette. I think for you and me both, with our writing and jobs, it’s so important to stay inspired on the fitness level. I’m right there with you battling those the “aches and pains.” I was recently diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency, which apparently has become epidemic since we live most of our lives indoors. Supplementing has helped my aches immensely.

  13. Chris Edgar
    | Reply

    Definitely inspiring stuff, Debra. I just wonder when we’ll get to see pictures of you performing flying kicks and breaking stacks of 20 boards.

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      Ha ha, Chris! The flying kicks were once in my repertoire, but the boards, never. I’m still happy I can touch my toes. Thanks for stopping by!

  14. cheryl ragsdale
    | Reply

    So honored to be included in this list!

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