“The truth is you guys have been given something that every athlete dreams of: a second chance”.
These words come from Coach Jimmy McGinty in The Replacements, a football movie that was released in the Summer of 2000.
There’s a moment in the Mark Allen interview on Legends of Triathlon when Allen says that at age 22, he thought he was finished with sport. Upon completing his career as a college swimmer, he believed that athletically, as a 22-year-old, everything was downhill from there.
But then his girlfriend entered him into a 10K run. To Mark Allen’s surprise, he was being passed quite handily by guys in the 50-and-up age category. That was when he realized that maybe at 22 he was not all washed up. Just maybe, as an athlete, he’d been given a second chance. (For those who don’t know the story, he went on to win the Nice Triathlon ten times, and he went on to be a six-time Ironman World Champion. He is widely considered the greatest triathlete of all time).
I was not a college swimmer. I wasn’t a college athlete. In fact, even though I played soccer and baseball in high school, I wasn’t very good.
My prime was very likely from ages 11-13.
For those two years, I was a good soccer player and a consistent goal scorer. And in baseball, I was a contact hitter and an All-star who could regularly get on base.
As I look back, those two years were my “glory years” as an athlete. And while I may not have much in common with Mark Allen, I do know this: I didn’t believe those “glory years” would ever find their equal, at least not in any of my future sporting endeavors.
I was wrong.
As endurance athletes, we’ve been given a second chance. You see, fast-twitch muscle fibers favor the youngsters. That’s why you don’t see a lot of 40-year-old sprinters. But have a look at marathoners. Have a look at cyclists who do double centuries. Have a look at long-distance swimmers.
These people are older. They have endurance. They more actively recruit slow-twitch muscle fibers.
I teach at a college where there are quite a few hotshot athletes. Every once in awhile, I’ll get a track star or cross country star who’ll say, “oh you run?” And it will be accompanied with a smug little smirk that seems to communicate something like “oh, that’s cute”.
While I don’t respond to the smirk, I do think to myself, “Sure, you might beat me in a 5K or 10K. But go toe to toe with me in a marathon, or an Ironman, and I’ll own you”.
We are not past our prime. In fact, many of us are on the verge of discovering it for the first time.
There are 50, 60, 70, and yes 80-year-old athletes doing extraordinary things in sport. Very few things are out of reach for those who truly want to be active.
We’ve been given something every athlete dreams of: a second chance.