5 Ideas for Staying Young – A Conversation with Tony Schiller

5 Ideas for Staying Young – A Conversation with Tony Schiller
Tony Schiller exiting the Olympic distance swim at the 2019 USAT National Championship.

“People give up their youth too quickly”.

Tony Schiller’s words resonated, to the point of making me feel guilty. That is precisely what I was doing – giving up my youth with only a little resistance.

So, how do we avoid becoming old too quickly? By staying active. Day-in, day-out activity reduces, and sometimes reverses, aging. Science supports this.

Related post: Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors

I hope that this post will give you some ideas to remain active and compete in triathlon events even when the drive to do so wanes.

But, first, a bit about Tony. You will see why his perspective is worth listening to.

Meet Tony Schiller, Fitness Champion on Many Levels

I am embarrassed to say that I was not acquainted with Tony Schiller until I skimmed the Fall 2019 issue of USA Triathlon magazine. Tony was listed as the winner of the 60-64 age group in both the Sprint and Olympic distances at the 2019 USA Triathlon National Championships.

Since the article listed Tony’s home as Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb a few miles from my home, I contacted him. He graciously agreed to speak to me.

Why the embarrassment? I learned during our conversation that Tony has been involved in the sport of triathlon since its earliest days, even racing professionally. Running and later triathlon turned out to be his sports.

During a career that is far from being over, Tony has achieved seven world championships. He is also one of only two men to be named USA Triathlon’s Male Amateur Triathlete of the Year (1995) and Masters Triathlete of the Year (2002 and 2015).

A Disturbing Trend

In speaking with children of all ages about the benefits of endurance sports, Tony observed that each year, the children appeared to be less fit than the previous year.

Deciding to do more than just speak about fitness, Tony introduced the MiracleKids Triathlon. The mission of the triathlon was “to build a world-class race to motivate kids and inspire fundraising for families of kids fighting cancer.” Over the next ten years, 12,500 kids, including two of my grandchildren, raced in the event. They also raised $4.5 million to help kids with cancer. 

In 2014, Tony co-founded CycleHealth as a Minnesota 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to kid wellness. CycleHealth merged with the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities in 2017. Today, they work together to sponsor endurance events around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Tony Schiller with four-time finisher of the CycleHealth Resilinator.  This time, the young man finished the 2.4 mile course using crutches,
Tony Schiller with a four-time finisher of the CycleHealthTM ResilinatorTM. This time, the young man finished the 2.4 mile course using crutches, Talk about inspiring! (Picture courtesy of Tony Schiller.)

Another small-world-story was born when Tony told me of one of their events, a race at Fish Lake Park in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Ironically, I have watched this event twice, once from our living room window. The second time, I was so curious about what was happening at the park that I walked over to check it out from the ground.

Besides problems with youth fitness, Tony also recognized that adults became less active with age, often out of lack of interest or motivation. This has not been Tony’s experience, however. He has maintained an enjoyment for swimming, biking, and running making him an ideal champion for triathlon and other fitness activities.

Five Ways to Keep the Passion for Fitness Alive

The challenge of keeping the passion to train alive is real. 2019 was the first season within the decade of the 2010s in which I did not complete a triathlon. Why? No excuses; just a matter of priority. I did not train as I needed to race competitively so took the year off.

But I cannot quit. I have nine more states in which to complete triathlons after which Joy and I will have been in every USA state for a triathlon. This is what we call the ‘Triathlon Across the USA’ adventure.

“You aren’t old until age becomes your excuse.”

Joe Friel

During our conversation, Tony shared the importance of staying active. He also described ways he has seen work, some he has applied, and some he is planning to use. I added a couple to round out the list.

I am sure you have other ideas or experiences so please share your comments below.

#1 Set goals

My goal of completing a triathlon is each state will run-out, Lord willing, within the next two or three years. Then what do I do?

Set a new goal.

Tony’s advice: “It’s best to set goals that don’t run out”. However, if you do, think ahead for goals that will not run-out.

One of Tony’s ideas is to set a goal of “Eight triathlons in my 80s, nine triathlons in my 90s, etc.”. Or, if you are like Tony, you set a goal of winning a world championship in your age group in each decade.

#2 Sign up for a race

Over the last few years, my wife and I sit down around the first of a new year to decide on a road trip/triathlon schedule for the coming year. What area would we like to explore? Who would we like to visit?

We are grateful that we have used travel to triathlons to visit many friends and family members. Some of these are no longer with us.

Tired of racing alone? What about racing with a friend, spouse, child, or even a grandchild? My oldest grandson and I are planning to complete the California triathlon in the 50-state goal together.

for Tony Schiller post - family celebration at the 2014 Maple Grove Triathlon
Completing a triathlon with family members can be a great motivator.

Related post: The Road to Ironman Triathlon – Laurent Labbe’s Story

Wow, I just realized that I have another goal, to beat my grandson in the triathlon we do together. The challenge is that he is both a competitive swimmer and distance runner in high school. And he has access to a great road bike. Better get serious!

“Age is a matter of mind over matter—if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Jack Benny

#3 Work at moving younger

What does it mean to move younger? Tony Schiller describes it like this.

“When I first see someone running along a road on which I am driving or running, I guess their age based on how they are moving – their posture, stride, foot bounce, etc. As I get closer, I adjust the guess. Finally, when I am beside them, I look at their face. Are they moving younger or older than their age? If their form makes them look younger than I guessed, they are moving younger.”

Today, Tony’s training includes a focus on moving younger. For example, “If I am swimming, I will focus on proper form, such as extending my reach”.

#4 Get ‘really’ good at swimming, biking, and running

In his latest book Master of One1, Jordan Raynor concludes “It is only when we get insanely good at what we do that we don’t just fall in love with our work but stay in love with it over a long period of time”. Having read the book, I am sure that Jordan would agree that this applies to non-work activities to which we have committed ourselves.

#5 Join a triathlon club

I follow the Facebook page of The Villages Triathlon Club. This triathlon club provides encouragement and training opportunities for newbie sprint triathletes; accomplished iron-men and -women in their 60s, 70s, and beyond; and everyone in between. The Club is there for everyone interested in getting and staying fit.

Check the related posts that include interviews with two of the members of the club.

Related post: “My First Sprint Triathlon was in 19 Days” – Pat Johnson’s Story

Related post: ‘Gotta Tri’ – Triathlon in The Villages, Florida

How Do You Keep the Passion Alive?

The five ideas presented here are not the only ones. If you have found other ways to stay active despite the challenges of age, please share them with the Senior Triathletes community.

  1. Jordan Raynor, “Master of One – Find and Focus on the Work You Were Created to Do”, p. 192, Penguin Random House LLC.
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