Three Cheers for the ‘Elderly’ Sports Dudes
As we meander through life the landscape is teeming with reminders that we are getting older. It’s really a blessing — hey, we’ve made it this far — yet we still lament the loss of physical youth. The reminders start coming fast at men who are hardcore sports fans. The shelf-life of an athlete often seems like that of an avocado that was already a little soft to the touch when you brought it home. Sports fans in their late thirties hear a lot of talk about athletes who are younger than they are being “past their prime.” We keep looking down to make sure that one of our feet hasn’t stumbled into the grave already.
Obviously, the longer you’re a sports fan, the more skewed your view on what is ancient becomes. It’s a brutal relative scale for comparison. When athletes hit 35 commentators start talking about them like they’re three days away from being fed soup by a nurse at the home. When you get to my age neighborhood, 35 is practically pubescent. Any athlete that makes it past that age suddenly picks up new fans like me who are just looking for an “older” athlete to cheer for.
We sports fans of a certain age have had a few shining moments in 2021, the most recent being this past weekend’s Indianapolis 500:
BREAKING: Helio Castroneves wins his fourth Indianapolis 500 in front of 135,000 fans, most at a sports event since pandemic began. https://t.co/S9hvHD9wpP
— The Associated Press (@AP) May 30, 2021
Castroneves is 46-years-old and a very accomplished Indy car driver. He’s won 25 races in his career and his Indianapolis 500 win on Sunday adds his name to a group of racing legends — A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears — as the only four-time winners of the race in history. Castroneves has recently been relegated to a part-time driving role because of his age.
I’m a huge Indy car fan. I’ve been to the 500 a few times and it’s an overwhelming spectacle. There was a lot of celebration of youth in this recent running, with a lot of drivers in their early-to-mid twenties fighting it out for the lead much of the race. As soon as the announcers mentioned that Castroneves was hanging around the front of the field I had a feeling that the young ‘uns were toast.
A little over one week earlier, Phil Mickelson took his 50-year-old self to the PGA Championship to compete against guys half his age. He walked away with his sixth major championship. At age 50 most golfers have transitioned exclusively to the euphemistically named “Championship Tour,” which used to be called the “Senior Tour.” They’d rather not deal with a bunch of 23-year-old kids who average a mile and a half off the tee.
Of course, I have to mention Tom Brady, who at 43 won his seventh Super Bowl title. By the way, 43 is about 112 in football years. I loathed Brady when he was with the Patriots but found my self rooting for him a bit this year just because he’s a forty-something. And no longer with the Patriots.
The Wall Street Journal has more on Castroneves and some of the other not-so-spring chickens out there competing:
In victory, Castroneves cited Brady and Mickelson as inspirations.
“The old guys still got it, still kicking the young guys’ butts,” Castroneves said after the win, which tied him with three others (Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser) with four Indy 500 titles.
Castroneves’s sentiment may be brusque, but it’s hard to argue—today’s sports geezer revolution feels far and wide. At the moment, there’s a plucky battle of the elders happening in the NBA playoffs—36-year-old LeBron James and 36-year-old Chris Paul squaring off in a fierce battle between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns. In the WNBA, the legendary 40-year-old Sue Bird is back for her 18th season, a title defense with the Seattle Storm.
Across the pond at the French Open, you’ve got 40-year-old Venus Williams, her 39-year-old sister, Serena, and, on the men’s side, another 39-year-old, some geezer from Switzerland named Roger Federer who’s got a handsome-looking one-handed backhand.
It’s nice for fans to see that 35 is no longer an immediate invitation to the athletic career grave.
I will never be super competitive at anything but I like to run and cycle. I ran my first marathon at 40. Seeing examples of athletes competing at the highest level as they get older is an inspiration to the common folk like me.
My biggest inspiration these days is a 90-year-old rogue nun named Sister Madonna Buder, who I first became aware of from a Nike ad a few years ago. Sr. Madonna is nicknamed “The Iron Nun,” having competed in over 45 Ironman Triathlons. She didn’t run her first Ironman until she was 55, so there go all the excuses. She’s still an active triathlete.
I’d better wrap this up so I can get to bed in time to wake up early and go for a ride.
Here’s the Nike ad: