Motivation Articles

A New Definition For ''Old''

Life Tales From a Former Olympian

According to Webster's Dictionary, the word “old” is defined as “having been in use for a long time,” “worn, dilapidated, ancient, or decayed by time.” After an experience as a volunteer at the 1995 St. Louis Senior Olympic games, I may have to give Webster a call.

On May 28-31, 1995, the Jewish Community Center on Aging in St. Louis held their 16th Annual Senior Olympics. Men and women 55 and older were eligible to compete. There were 1,421 participants from 25 states. More than 60 athletic events were held during the weekend. The oldest participant was 93! Each day proud winners would walk around wearing their bronze, silver, or gold medals.

As seniors in a Master of physical therapy program, we felt volunteering at these games would give us greater insight into our future geriatric patients. We had just completed a course on development throughout the life span. Our attitudes towards older people, we were ashamed to admit, still leaned towards Webster's definition. Our experience at the Senior Olympics permanently changed this ageist attitude.

During the first event of the morning, we served as scorekeepers for the badminton tournament. Badminton is a sport that requires finesse, agility and court-vision. Our attention was immediately drawn to the most energetic player on the court. “Mo,” as her friends called her, was competing in the badminton doubles championship. Her movements resembled those of a skilled athlete. She was particularly aware of the rules of the game and played with true sportsmanship.

Later that morning we found out that Mo was battling brain cancer and her prognosis was not promising. Nevertheless, she was eager to participate in her 12th year of Senior Olympics. She won a gold medal and our respect and admiration for the way she played.

Later in the day, we helped out at the “softball throw for accuracy” event. Before the competition, we helped one gentleman in his warm-up. He said that the competition was the realization of a goal set after undergoing triple bypass surgery. He had a passion for playing the game of baseball and was not about to let the surgery slow him down. He told us he did not have a bad heart, but simply a “new and improved” one. The determination in his eyes certainly killed any notions that motivation was not possible in older people.

In the final analysis, we think Webster should highlight “old” with words such as “courage, wisdom, athletic and perseverance.”

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Member Comments

  • Age is a matter of mind. If you don't mind, it don't matter.
  • I'm with you. Please do give Webster a call. I am 75 and proud of it.
  • What is this old you speak of?
    At 56 1/2 I still feel 19 inside, albeit a wiser one!
    My daughter-in-laws Father has participated in the Senior Olympics swimming event every year for years. He has had bladder and kidney cancer. Last November he went to Israel with his church group and then met his wife in Southern California for Thanksgiving, they live in Ohio. I told him I want to be just like him, he is my hero, I am 65. Then there is my mom, a widow She paints her own house, does her own yard work and takes care of her own pool, She goes to exercise class & weight trains 3 times a week, cleans her own rugs, reupholsters furniture, these are some of these things she has done all of her life. I could go on but I don't need to, she is another hero and role model in my life.
  • Thank you for this inspiring article - it gives me hope for an active future!
  • Very inspirational piece.
  • I know a lot of people who might be considered "old" but they are much more fit and healthy than I am! Age is more than chronological age - it is a state of mind and it is a healthy lifestyle. True, an element of luck is involved but the choices we make will help us stay young.
  • I believe old is a state of mind. I do not feel old. I do not act old. I can keep up with the younger people at weight lifting class. I even out lift some of them. I went to the gym the other day and I did 100 lb. leg presses on the machine. I was so proud of myself for that. I refuse to let age define me as it's just a number of how many birthdays I have had. I have had 58 to be exact. I have no intentions of slowing down any time soon.
  • When Social Security was initially unfolded, the age at which one could draw this benefit was set because very few people lived beyond 65. Now the average lifespan is over 70 and extending every year.

    If you have old family photos, go back and look how your grandparents looked in their 40's, 50,s 60,s and beyond. Today look at the same age groups - Big Diference in appearance!

    Before I retired, young associates were shocked that I was old enough to have a teenage grandaughter. When I retired, I had a young 20's associate tell me I "looked about the age of her parents (49 & 45)" - I gave her a giant hug, a kiss on the check and gave her a silver dollar (new composition, not "real" silver).

    It certainly is not because I had never had any serous health problem. I'm a Type 1 Diabetic, I had all of the childhood diseases available in the late forties and fifties, plus polio;, bronchial pnumonia twice as an adult, spinal meningitus, three heart attacks because of pancreas damage from defoliants used in Vietnam. Two of those attacks required open heart bypass surgery (#one = 4 bypass grafts, #two = 5 bypass grafts). My third only required a stent. I now also have an implanted defibrillator in my chest because of atrial fibrilation in my 50's (luckily, I was in my cardiologists office for my semi-annual checkup check-up and treadmill test (I was at 75% of my Max heart rate when this happened).

    What made the difference in my case, I think, was that after every serious health setback I made the best effort I could to complete whatever rehab was needed to get back into the best possible condition.

    In the past 5 years, I have been "carded" twice to check if I qualified for the "Over 55" discount. Both times absolutely "made my day" - especially the looks on the youngsters who "carded me"!

    My advice is to walk, run, swim, or whatever it takes to keep your heart and lungs healthy. Do different challenging strength exercises to keep your muscles, bones, tendons and joints strong and healthy Don't smoke, don't use alcohol to excess (I w...
  • I always say I am not old. That's just a number. When my grandkids ask me how old I am I say 16. They say how can you be younger than your kids. LOL
  • I just turned 51 and do not feel "senior". But I am becoming aware of the amount of ageism and condescending attitudes towards seniors that is out there. for example, the badminton player didn't "resemble" an athlete, she IS an athlete.
  • I want to wholeheartedly agree with SKIDEE's comment. Time and chance do play a part in our health, and there are times we have to make the best of a difficult situation. Besides the greater likelihood of healthier golden years, living a disciplined and healthy lifestyle brings the reward of feeling better right now.

About The Author

Julie Isphording Julie Isphording
Julie, a former Olympic marathon runner, is an author, radio host and fitness expert.