Seniors are Increasingly Using Triathlon to Stay Fit . . . and Social

by Terry VanderWert

Triathlon is for Seniors

Triathlon is changing the lives of many seniors – men and women alike. According to Bob Wendling, president of USA Triathlon, the number of older athletes competing in sprint triathlons has “absolutely exploded in the last six years.”  Triathlon is as much for seniors as for younger people.

He estimates 50,000 people older than 50 are now competing in at least one sprint triathlon a year, a tenfold increase since 2005. And, the number of triathlon participants aged 60-69 is fully twice that of athletes in their late teens (16-19).

The number of older athletes competing in sprint triathlons has “absolutely exploded in the last six years.”

It seems that many seniors share the feeling expressed by Dr. Alphonse G. Juilland.   Juilland who was chairman of the Stanford University linguistics department, writer, and sprinter with three world records in sprinting for men 50 and older is quoted as saying “We age ourselves prematurely by thinking old.”

More people seem to take up triathlon later in life and stay with it longer. “I’d call it maturity. You recognize that you don’t have to go out and kill yourself in the first five miles of a 10-mile race. You learn to understand your body better and recognize what it can endure,” says Fred Apple, MD, medical director of clinical laboratories at Hennepin County Medical Center (Minneapolis, MN) (Source: WebMD).

In a February 28, 2015 article in the New York Times titled “Training for Triathlons at an Older Age”, Colin Milner, an expert on aging, is quoted as saying “There’s a dramatic shift taking place because more older people are adopting the attitude that I can — not that I’m unable because I’m older.” Milner urges physical activity for seniors in order to prevent disabilities that often trouble more sedentary seniors.

This has been my experience. Since completing my first triathlon, my wife and I have been on a mission to complete a triathlon in each state by age 70. I was so proud of myself when on my 50th birthday, I ran 3 miles to prove that I was ‘not old’. At age 62, I finished my first half marathon.

One senior triathlete who competed in the USA National Winter National Triathlon Championship told me that he has never been in better shape than now and, in fact, was a faster runner now than in high school.  “It is good to know that your personal best is still ahead”.  I knew from his body language that this was sincere and truthful.  He was pumped!

I am not a super athlete.  In fact, I can more relate to George Plimpton, the journalist who participated in various sports so that he could more effectively write about the athlete’s life, than Dave Scott, the first six-time Ironman Triathlon Hawaii Champion and the first person ever inducted in the Ironman Hall of Fame.  However, I love triathlon!

In the Our Stories section of this site, I will share the experiences – the states in which triathlons have been completed with information about the race, lessons learned in the race, the race venue and what we also learned about the particular part of the country.   I will also share stories of other senior triathletes. You will be impressed (and humbled) by the achievements of other seniors and hopefully inspired to remain active as long as possible.

I look forward to this journey with you.