Getting older requires adjustments. That’s particularly true for the aging athlete. When my wife and I first met 25 years ago, I was playing basketball, soccer, softball, and hockey a couple of times a week. I was an avid snowboarder and windsurfer. Though single, I had a ruby red minivan to haul my various toys. My future father in-law dubbed it “Brion’s Sleigh.”
I’ve never owned another minivan. In fact, I’ve downsized considerably. Fatherhood and advancing age, coupled with several recurring injuries, have exacted their toll, putting limitations on my time and my athletic pursuits. In short, I’ve needed to simplify.
And I have plenty of company.
“I gave up hockey about three years ago,” said Ken Beaulieu, 56, of Norfolk. “I was dealing with too many nagging injuries – groin, shoulder, elbow, back – and I was especially concerned about getting a concussion.
“Collectively, the injuries began messing with my head,” said Beaulieu. “Instead of having fun and being competitive, I put all my energy into avoiding injury. It’s no way to play. I started skating tentatively, which took all the joy out of the game. I knew it was time to move on.”
Beaulieu did just that, focusing on running, which he picked up in 2003. ```````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````
“I’ve been able to maintain my weight and fitness level,” he said. “In addition to running, I ski, walk regularly, go on hikes, play a little golf, kayak, and work out at home. I do plan to take up biking and yoga in the near future.”
Similarly, Freddy Cicerchia of Manchester-by-the-Sea said he had to “move on” from his love of team sports.
“I played football, lacrosse, and was a wrestler in high school,” said Cicerchia, 65. “I played lacrosse in college. When I graduated, I still needed a competitive sport that involved body contact. I ended up playing rugby for the Boston Rugby Club for six years.”
A decade ago, Cicerchia was still running five times a week, but the wear on his joints required finding new pursuits.
“I had to stop running when I was in my early 50s,” he said. “I had knee surgery, and the doctor told me if I continued to run, I’d need a knee replacement within a year, as my right knee had very little cartilage left. I also had back issues, and the pounding didn’t help that.”
Cicerchia said he switched to cycling. “There’s no impact, and I can get a good cardio workout,” he said. “I can also get the feeling of just taking off and getting away from it all.”
Like many of his contemporaries, Cicerchia didn’t change things up for financial reasons. The determining factors are typically time constraints and age-related issues. One of Cicerchia’s cycling partners, Terry Cowman, 64, also of Manchester-by-the-Sea, still races occasionally, but admits those starting-line conversations are different.
“The old guys compare ailments. We catch up on who isn’t there and why,” said Cowman. “In the old days, we’d talk about how under-trained we were. Times change.
“I need more recovery time between hard efforts, and more sleep per night -- now six to seven hours versus five in the old days,” he said. “At 44, I was biking and running many days per week. Now, it’s one or the other, and I have to pick my spots.”
Lexington’s Marielle Yost, 53, was more of a late-bloomer, taking up running in her 30s. Despite running’s grind, she stayed with it, adding swimming and cycling and competing in triathlons. Things went sideways four years ago, when she suffered a torn meniscus in her right knee.
“I had to have knee surgery, and suddenly I couldn’t run anymore. Super painful anytime I tried,” said Yost. “At first, this was very difficult for me, since that was the first sport that I found that I absolutely loved.”
To fill the void, Yost started taking power yoga classes, an alternative that more aging athletes are discovering.
“It was especially easy on those dark, cold winter days, [since] I mostly work out in the morning at 5:30 during the week, due to work,” said Yost. “But come springtime, I wanted to go back outside. So I would swim outdoors and bike. But felt I needed something else. Since I love the water so much, I tried standup paddling, or SUP.
“I still feel I get a good bang for my buck, having implemented yoga and standup paddling almost year round,” she said.
While many athletes enjoy a variety of pursuits, others pursue outlets that offer a complete body workout that incorporated the mind/body connection. Yoga and tai chi are popular options. Rockland’s Jay Krim, 49, took up martial arts.
“I also run occasionally and do small cardio workouts a few times a week that consist of jumping jacks, push-ups, and sit-ups,” said Krim. “Before martial arts, I would occasionally work out with weights. But, to me, it was boring. Martial arts is exciting. You are constantly learning new techniques, and it is always challenging.”
One of Krim’s classmates at American Kempo Karate Academy in Weymouth, 61-year-old Victor DeRubeis of Weymouth, said he turned to martial arts after “my knees started yelling at me when I ran.”
“I started at age 47 with fitness kickboxing in early 2004, after my three kids had earned either black or brown belts,” said DeRubeis. “The school had a family discount, so I decided I would like to pursue a black belt myself. I earned it in 2012.”
David Sarney, a 73-year-old runner from Braintree, gave up over-50 softball at 62 and over-40 basketball in his 40s, due to a change in priorities. He said running provides the best fitness benefit for the time commitment, even though his regimen was interrupted by a pair of pulmonary embolisms, at 53 and 63, and three ear operations.
“I’m competitive, and have trouble comparing the ‘now’ me with the ‘was’ me,” said Sarney. “It’s important, if you’ve done these activities before, to forget about the ‘was’ me.
“Just be content with being the best ‘now’ me you can be and, if possible, build a group of like-minded friends to do it with,” he said. “My activities have always had an important social context, which contributed greatly to my satisfaction beyond my individual athletic achievements. Especially as one gets older, and in some ways more isolated from the mainstream world, it’s even more important to keep and even add to socio-physical activities.”
Given the realities of aging, these athletes will accept simplifying. They won’t accept being sedentary.
“Working out has always helped me deal with the stress of life and work,” said Cicerchia. “It also gives me more energy. With all my activities – I don’t really watch TV – I’d rather be training or working out.”Brion O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.