Keeping Pace with Mike Winter
Slowing down doesn’t have to mean giving up.
The more I think about it, the more I’m drawn to the idea that it’s largely our attitude that determines what becomes of our sporting life as we age. Whether we stick with a sport, try a new one, or quit entirely as we move forward in life can hinge on whether we are driven from within, participating primarily for the joy of the sport, or motivated by external results and recognition.
When you were a kid, were your parents interested only in whether your hockey team won or you beat your tennis opponent? Or were they more interested in whether you had fun? There is a theory that the way your parents viewed your childhood sports activities affects how, and even if, you will participate in sports in your later years.
The fact that Norway, with a population smaller than the GTA, dominated the medal podium at the most recent Winter Olympics was hard to miss. Though many factors may have contributed to the country’s success, it’s interesting to note that organized youth sports teams there do not keep score until kids turn 13. It’s believed this encourages kids to play and to develop social skills without feeling anxious or judged.
Mike Winter of Caledon won the Ironman UK event for his age category (65 to 69 years old) in 2011, achieving a personal best when he was 65. For the uninitiated, an Ironman includes a nearly 4-kilometre swim, followed by about 180 kilometres on a bike, followed by a run of roughly 42 kilometres. Mike’s time was 13 hours, 19 minutes. Two months later he competed in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
Mike has always been involved in a sport, but has switched focus a number of times over the course of his athletic career. Until his late 20s it was all about rugby. Shoulder injuries and the demands of a career and young family caused a switch to the squash courts, which in turn gave way to mountain biking (in 2006, he placed first in his age category in the Albion Hills 24-hour mountain bike race). Biking then morphed into endurance athletics.
Although Mike’s parents focused on academics, they didn’t discourage his interest in athletics. As a kid he had to finish his homework before he was allowed to pursue his sporting passion.
“All pressures to perform were either by my peers or self-inflicted,” says Mike. “Pursuit of excellence has always been my personal goal, although I am aware I often push a little bit further than is wise.”
And although he is never satisfied with second best in himself, Mike consciously avoids transferring such expectations to his grandchildren. “I encourage my grandchildren to be the best they can be,” he says, “but as I age, I am more than ever aware that setting realistic goals must be part of the equation.”
Surgery last year means Mike isn’t currently able to pursue endurance athletics. But if that door has closed permanently, he says he will find a competitive replacement.
Sooner or later, we must all accept the fact that we have slowed down. And that’s a good thing, because if denial persists too long, the body will get caught in a cycle of injury after injury caused by pushing too hard.
Maintaining a level of fitness that enables us to do what we want to do can be paramount to enjoying our later years. The trick is to calibrate where we are and set realistic personal goals in line with where we want to be. The goal could simply be to maintain independence, or hold off frailty, or be able to chase our grandkids in the park.
And the adage “train smarter, not harder” has never been more true than it is for an aging athlete. Paying attention to the basics, such as getting enough sleep, watching diet, and participating in strength training and flexibility activities, plays a part. In retirement, when time is our friend, we no longer have the excuse that we can’t fit these activities into frenetic days.
For most of us, continuing as an athlete as we age is every bit as much about community, personal growth and having fun, as it might have been when we were children. And the mindset can shift from a focus on external performance – the score, the best time – to one driven by internal fulfillment, health and vitality.