By Eric Barton
City & Shore PRIME Magazine
Look back at the photos from your childhood and there’s something striking about the older people. It’s not just that everyone seems bathed in an Instagram filter. It’s that the old people look really old.
A generation ago, people hit 60 or 50 or maybe even 40 and settled in. They went gray and sat down and maybe rarely got up. You were old and you rested.
Not today. Any given weekend, at any given 5K run or 100-mile bicycle challenge or paddleboard meet-up, you’ll find athletes of a certain age. You will find people pushing an advanced decade, who just may be in better shape than those half their age.
If that’s not you, but you’d like it to be, we’ve found a few examples of this phenomenon. On these pages are people who are not only an inspiration to people their age but also an inspiration to any single athlete.
Do they possess, through their dedication to fitness, a secret to staying young? Read on.
Grant Maughan, 52 (photo above)
Just recently, Grant Maughan found himself in a snowstorm on the Iditarod Trail in Alaska. He had 50 miles to go on a leg of a 390-mile run. He was pulling behind him a sled containing 65 pounds of gear. And soon, the temperatures dropped to 60 below.
The blizzard turned into a white-out, and he lost count of how many times he got lost. Eventually he camped on the side of the trail. For 11 hours.
When he finally made it to the next checkpoint, he had frostbite on his fingers, toes and face. Especially his nose, which was quite possibly going to fall off. “It gets to the point in those kinds of conditions where things can go wrong quickly,” Maughan says. “And things definitely went wrong.”
You might think that Maughan must be a lifelong runner to brave such a challenge. But no, Maughan started running in 2011.
Back then, he was captaining a yacht when his employer asked if he wanted to join him on a run. Maughan really hadn’t run since high school back in Australia. But something captivated him about it. He signed up for the Palm Beach Marathon and then got addicted.
He soon graduated to ultra-marathons, meaning hundreds of miles all at once. He has since lost count of how many races he’s competed in, often finishing in the first pack. “Whatever I do, I get in there and want to get right up to me chin,” he says in his Australian accent.
When he’s home in Fort Lauderdale between races, Maughan runs about a hundred miles a week. He says his secret is a “relatively healthy lifestyle” of good food, regular exercise and paying attention when his body says “stop.”
But he’s hoping his body never tells him to stop. He sees ultra-marathon competitors in their 70s, and Maughan wants to be just like them.
“When you get to your age, it’s an exercise in not getting caught up in your mortality,” Maughan says. “Instead of thinking about the fact that you’re mortal, put yourself in a sport and give it your all and suddenly you’re not thinking about getting older.”
When Bryan Hankerson’s kids started running track, he felt a little funny encouraging them to do things he wasn’t doing himself. So in his mid 40s, he started training with them.
He started by jogging. Then sprinting. Then long jumping. Then pretty much every other track and field activity. His kids were running in a track meet when he looked across the field one day and saw people his own age competing. It turns out they were part of the USA Track & Field Master’s Division, for anyone over 30, and Hankerson was soon hooked.
Since then, he has lost count of how many medals and trophies he has won. A CPA in Pembroke Pines who just finished his PhD, Hankerson isn’t the type to brag. But he has simply run out of space to display all of his awards. “If you have a competitive nature like I do, you’re going to love competing in the Master’s Division,” he says.
At 50, Hankerson graduated to the Senior Games, and now he’s setting records. Soon, he’s planning to take a new step and enter the decathlon, right after he figures out how to hurl a discus and toss a javelin.
He says his secret is to know when to back down. During the week, he usually trains at less than his all. “Then on the weekends, I kill it,” he says.
Now, when he goes out to train with the high school kids, he’s often passing them. “They look at each other and say, ‘That guy’s old enough to be our father,’” Hankerson says. “I’m like, ‘More like your grandfather.’”
If you were to look at Maureen Fitzpatrick, you wouldn’t pick her out as a competitive swimmer. She’s four-foot-10, for one thing, a good foot shorter than a lot of her competition. “Let’s just say,” she says, “that I don’t have a swimmer’s body.”
But she sure manages to use that non-swimmer’s body for speed. In fact, she’s an All-American, ranked in the top 10 of swimmers in her age bracket. Think about that: a couple inches shy of five feet, in a sport where a lengthy frame is common, and yet still a champ.
“I do the breast stroke because it takes advantage of the stocky legs I have,” she says, laughing.
Back in college, Fitzpatrick was one of the first women in Yale’s storied swimming program. She became a teacher and school administrator and swim instructor, but she didn’t swim competitively until eight years ago. She now lives on Singer Island and competes every year along with her golfer husband in the Senior Games.
Swimming competitively also means she finds a lot more joy in her birthdays now. It means she’s that much closer to entering the next age bracket. “I’m so much happier to have birthdays now,” she says.
At 65, she doesn’t think much about her own success. “I’m just so inspired by the seniors I see still competing well into their 70s and 80s and 90s,” she says. “I love meeting these people. They’re so inspirational, and I love being their cheerleader.”
Everyone at Tom Warnke’s 50th high school class reunion wanted to know what he’s doing to stay so young. Seriously, the guy has the body of someone half his age. Or maybe half of that.
“Oh, I just say it’s the ocean,” he says.
It started for him while growing up in Boynton Beach in the 1950s. His father started a scuba company there in ’56, and so Warnke was out on the reef regularly. In ’64, a friend told him about a surf break in Delray, so Warnke rented a board for $1.25. They had no surfing teachers or magazines or videos back then, so Warnke and the other dozen surfers on the beach figured it out on their own. “We just had to teach ourselves. One day we just figured out how to turn,” Warnke says. “Then one day you’re on the open face of a wave and you’re hooked.”
He’s out there regularly now, whenever there are waves big enough to surf. He takes yearly pilgrimages to Mexico and then also serves as something of the sport’s local ambassador. He likes to say he’s going to keep surfing until he’s a hundred. “I always describe surfing as a bath for your brain,” he says. “You need to be in the here-and-now to surf, and that just resets you.”
His favorite moment? The one that truly keeps him young? He likes to get out there right before the sun rises, when the wave itself turns into a wildfire of oranges and reds. It’s in that moment that Tom Warnke will never grow old.
There has never been a time in Ted Kalaidi’s life that he wasn’t totally crazy about sports. Even back in Vietnam, he’d figure out a way on his 82-foot patrol boat to run deep for a Hail Mary pass.
As a police officer, first in Miami and then Jupiter, where he lives now, he competed in the law enforcement games, softball leagues, master’s track and field. Now he’s a regular champion in the Senior Games track events. He’s seen the podium too many times to count. “People say you’re like a little kid,” he says. “I just enjoy it.”
But Kalaidi also knows most people, especially people his age, aren’t like him. It’s sort of a mission of his these days to change that. Maybe his favorite thing, perhaps besides competing, is getting people into exercise again – or for the first time. He serves as a personal trainer, often for people his age. And if you’re one of those people who needs his help, Kalaidi knows exactly how you should start.
“First thing you got to know, is start slow. Start slow. I’m not kidding about that,” he says.
Go too hard and you get an injury, he cautions, and then, as an older person especially, it’s easy to get depressed and not get back into it. Instead, work on core muscles every day, little by little. Stretch, a lot. Watch the hamstrings and the Achilles’ heel, never putting too much pressure on them. “The core is key,” Kalaidi says. “I’m going to say it again: the core is key.”
There’s no doubt the exercise has kept him young, Kalaidi says. But it’s also more than that. In kindergarten, a doctor told his parents he would never walk due to a virus in his back, but he just kept going anyway. Fourteen years ago, another doctor told him to stop running and jumping.
Instead, do you know what he did? Can you guess?
“I just worked on my core muscles,” he says. “And here I am.”
Two years ago, headed to the national Senior Games competition in Minneapolis, M. Ann Harsh was a bit torn. Her close friend had held the fastest time in the race-walk competition for her age bracket, a record that had stood for nearly 20 years. But Harsh had trained hard, and she was confident she could beat it. “It was hard, because we were so close,” Harsh says, “but I also am pretty competitive.”
That’s the way the Fort Lauderdale resident had always been, playing nearly every sport back in school. As a CPA, she also always wanted to be on top, rising to partner at Ernst & Young and serving as CFO for a chain of hospitals.
After retiring, she was looking for something that would still get her competitive juices flowing. She had for years competed in runs, but the pounding of pavement started to get brutal. About a decade ago, she tried race-walk, joined a club, and then got serious about it. That first race she entered wasn’t pretty. “I was just hoping I’d finish,” she recalls. “I lost to the guy who was 75 but beat the woman who was 80.”
Then she committed herself to getting better. She studied up on the intricate rules of race-walk, an Olympic sport that requires one foot to have contact with the ground at all times. There’s also an intricate set of guidelines for the position of the contestant’s knees, which must remain straighter than a runner’s. While many competitors get disqualified for failing to follow the rules, Harsh seemed to master them.
At the senior games two years ago, Harsh figured she could break her friend’s record, which had stood at 31 minutes, 30 seconds. In fact, she beat it by 10 seconds.
This June, she’s headed to Birmingham to defend her record. She might be two years older now. But she race-walks five days a week now, with another two days at the gym for weight training. “This year, I’m going to defend my title,” she says.
For others thinking about doing what she’s done, Harsh says they just need to take the first step. “Race-walking is a great sport for older people because they can just go out and start walking. They don’t need any special equipment or anything, they can just go out there and begin,” she says.
Larry Rule never played golf while growing up in Fort Lauderdale. “Dad thought golf was for old men,” he says.
Then in college a friend challenged him to a game. Rule was hooked, mostly because the sport was so beguiling. Hit a ball the exact same way twice, it seemed, and you’d have two very different outcomes. “You never beat golf. Never, no matter how much you play,” he says.
So back then Rule decided he wouldn’t get upset over it, figuring he’d never get that good. Then, after he became a pool contractor, he entered his first amateur competition. He really never stopped competing.
He can still remember the most pivotal hole of his first win. There was one hole with a dog leg right and water all the way down the side of the curve. Rule used the driver, then the four iron. Putting has always been the best part of his game, and with a long way to go, Rule sunk it for a birdie.
His partner gets a lot of credit for his good health, he says, because, as his kids like to say, “she’s a food terrorist.” But he’s also been lucky. “The good Lord blessed me with a relatively healthy body, and that’s it,” he says.
He rarely plays more than once a week these days. But he walks the course whenever he can. It’s his way to fight off the arthritis and the feeling of getting older. He competes regularly still and wins, often.
Winning feels the same as it always has, no matter the age. “The first win was wonderful. I was so unbelievably proud of myself,” he says. “Here you are an adult, and you get that feeling like you’re a little kid playing sports again. It never leaves you.”