Mon, Apr 15, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Meet the world’s oldest top athletes

Five pensioners, aged up to 108, talk about how they thrive on extreme exercise

By Richard Godwin  /  The Observer

An elderly man exercises by the beach as a woman walks in the shade of an umbrella at East Coast Park in Singapore. Mature people are much more aware of the goodness that can come out of training.

Photo: AP

EDWINA BROCKLESBY: TRIATHELETE, 76, KINGSTON-UPON-THAMES

I didn’t do any exercise at all until I was 50. I remember trying out for the long-jump team at university for a laugh and I couldn’t move for two weeks afterwards. So that was the end of my athletics career.

And then I had three children and I was busy with my job. I was a social worker and ran two adoption agencies.

One day, I went to see an old friend from Nottingham University who was running a marathon. I thought that would be fun to do, at least a half marathon, anyway. I came back and told my husband and he laughed and said I wouldn’t even be able to run as far as Northampton, which was about three miles from where we lived at the time. It’s good to have a challenge like that! Sure enough, it did inspire me to run my first half marathon.

Then my husband died when I was 52. By then I had a small group of running friends and they were brilliantly supportive. I trained as a counselor myself, but I found running better than counseling for dealing with grief. For one, you always feel better after you’ve been for a run as the endorphins kick in. But I think what is more important is the social element. You’re with people who support you and value you. You can talk if you want to, or you can be silent if you want to.

The running club was only small, but it did have one place in the London Marathon — and that’s when it became more serious for me. I ran my first marathon in 1996, when I was 53. I moved to London and became a member of the Serpentine Running Club and, with them, I completed my first London Triathlon when I was 58. I don’t have an anterior cruciate ligament in either knee — my daughter told me that I’d need surgery if I kept pounding the streets like I used to — and that’s how I got into cycling and swimming as they’re a little easier on the joints. When I started swimming, at 56, I couldn’t do crawl at all and swam breaststroke with my head above water like most women of my age. But swimming is a wonderful feeling. It might have something to do with our spending the first nine months of our gestation suspended in water.

There’s so much evidence that if you keep physically active, you don’t experience some of the difficulties associated with ageing. There are lower rates of type 2 diabetes among the active, but falling over is the biggest thing. If you can keep your bone and muscle strength up, you’re less likely to fall — and you might also be able to prevent yourself from hitting the ground if you do fall. Falls are one of the things that costs the NHS (National Health Service) the most money.

I’m getting slower as I get older, of course I am. I do manage to run 5k, but I walk a bit more. I feel lucky that I can still jog along the Thames.

Edwina Brocklesby is the director of Silverfit, a charity that promotes physical activity among ageing people. She is also the UK’s oldest Ironman triathlete. She was recently awarded the British Empire Medal.

EDDY DIGET: PERSONAL TRAINER, 74, MILTON KEYNES

I’ve always trained: cross-country running; ice skating; roller skating; fencing; cycling. I represented England in the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth in diving and swimming. I’ve been doing weight training for about 45 years now and I was British bodybuilding champion twice, once at 58 and once at 68. I’ve been a stuntman. I was a medical officer in the Royal Navy. And I have been recognised as a Shaolin Master for my commitment to Chinese martial arts. Some Shaolin monks turned up at my studio in Oxford Brookes one day in their saffron robes and presented me with a piece of parchment. I broke down and wept.

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