I always ask myself, “Well if it doesn’t matter to you, why bother showing up then?” Sure, the majority of athletes are past their prime, they’re not training to achieve a scholarship or to qualify for a national team. We’re all there to swim, to engage in exercise, socialize and so on. That doesn’t mean that when something challenges you, it is something to quickly disregard.
Every Master’s Nationals I attend the same thing always happens. A swimmer well into his/her years, usually 75, 80, 85, 90+ years old enters into the more challenging events. Be it the 1650y Free, 1500m Free, 200 Fly, 400 IM, etc. (Those are very hard events for you non-swimmers to note). It is always inspirational to watch these people swim an event that isn’t easy even when you're 20. More often than not, the advanced aged swimmer will break a Master’s world record as they finish with a standing ovation from the crowd. (Are they clapping for the accomplishment or because 20 minutes later, we can move to the next event?) Not bad for a person who we weren’t sure could even make it to the block to start with; they are a champion in every sense of the word.
So what’s the difference between great grandpa racing in a 200 fly and the rest of us? Attitude. Can everybody swim a 200 fly or 400 IM? No. But you sure can’t say they can’t do it because of age. In a community where people are sometimes afraid to take on new challenges because they’re past their prime, don’t always recognize the opportunity and potential that lies ahead.
So who cares? Well tell that too Great Grandpa when he finishes his 200 fly, or to Great Grandma who just broke the Master’s World Records in the 1500, 800, 400, 200 and 100 Freestyle all in a single race. Studies have shown that challenging yourself physically and mentally as you age is not only good for your health, it also significantly slows down if not outright prevents cognitive decline (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s). It also can have a positive impact on your level of strength, independence and resiliency to continue to accomplish new and amazing things. While some might say their “best years” are behind them, for others their best years are still ahead of them. No matter their age.
Whether you’re a swimmer, runner, cyclist, rugby player, soccer player, or any other athlete really. Even if your “best years” are behind you and you face yourself with a challenge that frankly, you probably can’t take on. Instead of chalking it up to “Master’s, who cares?” Take it on instead. Your attitude from right now will carry you forward to the future. Instead of reading the inspirational story of great grandma or grandpa accomplishing something seemingly beyond their years, you can be that inspirational story. Go out there and get it.