A 600 meter swim, a 13.8 mile bike ride, and a 5k run. A “sprint tri” in the triathlon world. Could you do one? Could you finish?
What if you were 90? And had osteoarthritis in your back? And a knee replacement?
This past Saturday, Dr. John C. Taylor completed the Tri the Parks Triathlon in Carrolton, GA put on by Blue Sky Sports. In doing so, he lays claim to being the first 90-year-old triathlete in the history of USA Triathlon competition. Amazing.
John picked up the sport in 1981 at age 60. I’ll say that again … at age 60. But that’s typical for the Atlanta resident. He also received his doctorate in Health Education from Southern Illinois University 3 days after turning 75.
John told us about the times he’s retired, but each was really just a transition to the next thing. He Pastored churches for 45 years. Along the way he got his masters in Journalism. After “retiring” from the ministry, he taught college-level Journalism for 18 years. After retiring from education, he taught Wellness Lifestyle Seminars for Seniors for another 12 years.
He and his wife Sally have been together for 12 years. They’re inseparable, and slowing down doesn’t seem like part of the plan. As we followed John during his race setup, Sally was everywhere: part assistant, part-trainer, part-cheerleader. He affectionately calls her his performance-enhancing drug. Sally still runs 5 miles a day … which is pretty amazing in itself.
Triathlon training is a daily thing for John. Which is good, as he’s got another triathlon in early June. Then later in June he’ll have an 8-day stretch in Houston where he’ll have 2 cycling roadraces, 2 cycling time trials, and then another triathlon. Wow. The secret to competing at his age? Simply this, “Just keep on keeping on. Don’t ever quit.”
While blessed with a great sense of humor, he’s also competitor. There was no resting during transitions. And just like everyone else who took a fall, he got up and kept going. He brought it the whole way.
John’s closest competitor age-wise was Bud Frankenthaler, 78. A marvel himself, Bud still pointed to John as his role-model, saying he hoped to be doing triathlons when he’s John’s age.
Triathlons have been around longer than we might think. French runners in the 20s, 30s & 40s did “les trois sports” as a distraction from the grind of marathon training. The first U.S. triathlon was held in 1974 in San Diego. 46 athletes competed. One of those competitors, John Collins, took the concept to Hawaii and created what we all know now as The Ironman. 12 out of 15 athletes finished the first Ironman.
Triathlons are now booming, becoming an olympic sport in 2000. Today there are over 135,000 USA Triathlon members, up from 21,000 in 2000. This year there will be close to 2000 triathlons all over the U.S.
One thing I was inspired by on Saturday is that triathletes are not all uber-fit 20-somethings. Some are uber-fit older people. Some are simply quasi-uber-fit irrespective of age. Actually, one of the highest growth segments within triathlons is the over 40 crowd. This past Saturday, over half of the 500 participants were 40+ and there was close to 100 athletes over 50. Saturday’s overall winner was a 40 year old. You’ve got to love that.
John won’t know for certain until early 2012 whether or not he was the first 90 year old triathlete. Regardless, I can tell you that this past Saturday, he was a record-setter in every sense of the word. Hundreds cheered him on during the race.
And maybe the 2nd coolest thing all day was the inspiration you could see in people’s eyes. Mine included. Compliments of a 90 year-old who just keeps on, keeping on.