It’s Just a (Bigger) Number

A father sneers at 50

sunset ponderLast week I was running at a local high school track and was doing some striders along the yard markers of the nice new artificial turf field. While I was running I was mentally ticking off the yard markers in my head thinking how much longer 10 yards looks on TV watching football than on a mild winter day in the middle of a quiet and empty field. I started out doing “high knee” or “strider” drills that began at the goal line and went out to the 20 yard line and then jogged back. Then I went out to the 25 and back, etc. I increased these drills in 5 yard increments with each repeat. As I approached the 50 yard mark in bold white letters on the field, a very strange sensation came over me and I suddenly felt that I was no longer measuring distance. Instead, each passing harsh mark represented another year gone by. And since 50 is my next milestone birthday, and only a few months away, I was a little apprehensive about hitting that 50 yard marker during my drill. As my repeats got closer to the 50 I just glared at the mark on the field as I turned back to begin again thinking … “it’s coming … soon”.

You have to understand something about me and age… I have the soul of a 300 year old, but usually feel like I am somewhere in between 6 and 16. Yes, I have been married for 23 years. Yes, I have 20 and 21 year old daughters and yes I have a 5 month old granddaughter. Yes, I like to play really hard but I like to rest and chill really hard too and take power naps. Not the kind of naps your grandparents used to take. The kind of naps you used to take as a little kid. So, like I said …..I am still somewhere between 6 and 16 years of age with a 300 year old soul that knows how to rationalize why naps are important. The only reason I know that I’m going to be turning 50 is because others remind me of that fact and I can do the math on my driver’s license. Actually, I lied … the real reason that I am aware of my age is because I am required to disclose that info when I register for races. So you tend to become very aware of your age and your opportunity to “age up” into the next age group bracket and compete against kids much older…. Like 51 or 52. You know, the big kids.

The funny thing about the concept of age and the multisport athlete is that it really is just a number. We are all kids. We may feel like 150 year old kids the day after a tough event. But we bounce back like kids too. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that this mindset is not necessarily exclusive to the band of triathletes that I surround myself with. I think our society as a whole has become much more aware of health and fitness than previous generations have been. When I was a kid, being in your 40’s was a half step away from being on social security. Hell, I think I have done more during the decade of my 40’s than most people did in their entire lifetime a generation ago.

I have many finisher photos of me crossing the finish lines of races with my kids. I always said that it will be fun to some day be able to do that with grandchildren as well. And now that time has come and we will have some pictures in 2010 which will include three generations.  OK. so take that to the next logical step. Let’s just say that my granddaughter has a child in her early 20’s. That will put me at about ….. a little older than I am now, and still racing. Therefore, the very real possibility exists for me to be able to cross a finish line someday with my kids, and their kids, and their kids. Perhaps I am reaching, but that’s how I tick. And if the possibility exists, their only needs to be a bridge to connect possibility with reality. And you are either a bridge builder or you are a stick of dynamite. Don’t tell me something can’t be done. You will only give me reasons to prove you wrong.

daddio7So getting back to those yard markers on the football field that we first started talking about. I stood at the goal line to begin my approach up to that 50 yard line. I started out with slow and deliberate high knee strides to get the real benefit of the drill. This would be it I thought. I needed to hit the 50 to send the right message to the age spirits. I needed to hit the 50, stomp on it, spit on it, flip it the bird, and return back to the start line, proud and triumphant. (yes, I play head games and have discussions with myself all the time while working out). But no. The 6 year old in me had a different idea. It was a little more difficult, but a hell of a lot more fun and even a little defiant. (Although that 6 year old didn’t really get permission for this new plan. He just sort of took off with it as he chuckled to himself.) I hit the 45 yard marker, then eyed the 50 with an intensity that said “I own you”. I picked up a little speed and hit that 50…. Then kept right on going …. 45, 40, 35 …. All the way down to the goal line at the  opposite end of the field. When I hit the goal line, I bent down and slapped the line in true high school suicide drill form, turned an about face and sprinted back to my start point. THIS time, when I crossed that 50, I stomped, I spit, I flipped, and I smiled.

It’s just a number.

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 30, 2009 at | Permalink

    Nice article Steve. I enjoyed it. I happen to be finishing up a book on athletes over 50, so I totally hear you about fuzziness of age boundaries. Age is limiting if you believe it is.
    Check out my website When you turn 50, I’d love to have you do a guest blog post as someone just entering 50+.

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