Strength And Conditioning, Athletic Training, Mental Toughness
Throwing Old Gracefully
Back in 2004, when I was a relatively young spring chicken of only 42 years old, I made the finals in my 6th national Olympic Trials. Journalist Steve Landells shortly thereafter wrote a two-page feature on my accomplishment for Athletics Weekly (AW) magazine under the heading “Throwing Old Gracefully”.
Earlier this year I passed the 60-year-old milestone and smashed the British Masters javelin record for over 60 folks four times, bringing my lifetime tally of National, International, and World throwing Records to 50!
As I look back at my life, and 50 years of competing I can’t help but hear the chorus line “How did I get here?” from the 1980’s song Once in a Life Time by Talking Heads
When I was very young – as in a single-digit-year-old - my dream, was to be an elite international athlete and compete in the Olympic Games. I had absolutely no desire or aspirations whatsoever of becoming a master’s athlete - who would at that age? In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here, I don’t believe there is or ever has been a child or young adult that has had that as an ambition, right? Their focus and time horizon are much shorter and more immediate.
So, how did I get here? And how am I able to still throw and break records?
To answer these questions, I go back to Steve Landells' 2004 AW article and the title that cleverly combined my advanced years and throwing into a single phrase: “Throwing Old Gracefully”. He, like many other journalists, focused on my age as the theme/hook to his /their stories. But in hindsight, I realize now that Mr. Landells' reference to my gracefulness was more than just him being a creative writer. It was actually very insightful.
When I ask Siri the definition of Graceful, she says it’s an adjective meaning “having or showing grace or elegance”.
When I asked Siri for some examples of gracefulness in sports she gave me a 2013 article on Sports Biomechanics with this paragraph: “At the higher levels, coaches spend time with athletes developing their graceful movements. They recognize the importance of artful movement, not only in its influence on performance but also in its injury prevention. Development of speed, agility, endurance, mobility, dynamic balance, flexibility, and skill are key players to functional strength.”
So, in an instant I got the answers to both of my questions, “How did I get here?” and “How am I still able to throw?”
In 1968, at age 6, I was diagnosed with spina bifida and at the same time decided I wanted to become an Olympian. But I knew, even back then, I would have to be very creative in how I trained and threw to reduce the stress on my spine, minimize the risk of injury and maximize the chance of reaching my full potential.
It worked so well, that I managed to overcome my weak back and reach my full potential; breaking National, International, and World Records multiple times and making 2 Olympic teams. And, it continues on today as what I did and continues to do allows me to keep throwing and breaking records.
Workout for older athletes
Now to be clear I don’t do gracefulness workouts, as such. But what I do is work on range of movement, correct sequencing of body parts, and efficiency and effectiveness of movements, whether it’s bounding, medicine ball throwing, or lifting weights. I think of the runup with a throw at the end as a performance – as an artistic physical movement and expression. So, when I started competing in hand-painted outfits with matching javelins in my mid-forties I was just taking what I was already doing and feeling internally and externalizing it so people could see.
Gracefulness can also refer to politeness and pleasantry, which in recent years has become something that I have really had to be aware of and embrace in my continuing athletic journey.
How would you react to being told you aren’t allowed on the track to compete for a competition you are entered in? Or, if you get in being asked to leave as you are warming up for your competition because there is a competition on! Or, maybe the worse, you are actually competing and security is called to escort you off the field because only athletes are allowed on the field during the competition!
All these scenarios have happened to me multiple times including at my last 2 Olympic Trials and several National Championships.
I realize that what I am doing is different and it’s unexpected. People are not expecting an elderly man to be out there with athletes in their teens and twenties. So, I keep my composure, being pleasant and polite. I am extremely thankful and appreciate that I am still able to do what I do, pushing my ever-aging body to its athletic limits. But to “Throw Old Gracefully” you also need to have a good sense of humor.