November 2006 Issue
Fitness After 50
Exceptional athletes share the secrets of their success.
For many of us, there's nothing like settling down on the couch after a long day, bag of chips and remote control in hand. But for these four athletes... Movement is poetry in motion.
Bike Every Mountain
Jim Schulz hates to exercise. "I just can't fathom working out at a gym," he says. "In fact, the whole notion of gyms is lost on me."
But mountain biking - now that's another story. The 54-year-old logs an average of 200 miles a week traversing the ups and downs of the Hocking Hills and traveling to his job as a nurse at O'Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens (5 miles downhill to and 5 miles uphill from).
When the mood strikes, he also participates in races, most recently at Bob Evans Farms in Gallipolis.
But he doesn't do it for the thrill of competition. It's all about being outdoors.
"I live in the woods," he says about the countryside surrounding his home in Athens. "The area around here, and the Ohio River, is just gorgeous. My wife and I are truly in love with it."
A cross-country runner and avid swimmer in high school who competed in triathlons throughout his 30s, Schulz was sidelined in 1992 by plantar fascitis and its excruciating heel pain.
"Running was just too darn painful," he recalls. "Then I read about these guys in San Francisco who customized 26-inch Schwinns for backwoods riding. I decided I'd like to give it a try. My love for cycling goes back to kindergarten when bikes could take me anywhere I wanted to go, and I could go by myself."
Today, Schulz is the proud owner of two mountain bikes, a road bike and a commuter bike. "I'd have 10 more if my wife would let me," he says with a laugh.
To the cyclist, there's nothing more rewarding than spending weekends on the road in Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. He marvels at the freedom that being on a bike evokes.
"I can ride all day and never have a car pass me," he says. "There's this feeling that nothing is stopping you."
Schulz has happily left his fervid racing days behind him. His philosophy is simple: "When I go to a race and get beat by a 30-year-old, it's because I just got beat by him. It's not because I'm older, it's just that he moved faster. I try not to write things off because of age - that's so easy to do."
Schulz's tip for success:
Get back up on the horse. "Don't get discouraged. Know that if you're going to ride a bicycle, you are going to fall off of it eventually. I've crashed more than 30 times throughout my riding career. The difference is that now it takes me twice as long to heal."
The Long and Winding Road
Ever since his Boy Scout camping days in Massachusetts, Carl Strout has enjoyed spending time outside. But it wasn't until 13 years ago that he discovered his true natural affinity for the great outdoors. The Croton resident had been an active runner for 10 years, until his knees screamed in arthritic protest. But then he chanced upon the Reader's Digest article that would change his life. The author, Strout remembers, was a realtor who had hiked the Appalachian Trail.
"The guy did it because he wanted to find himself," Strout says. "He didn't. But I did."
Strout - whose trail name is Buckeye - estimates he has hiked and cycled more than 10,000 miles since 1993. In July, he celebrated his 81st birthday by engaging in a 40-plus-mile hike, which took him through the wilds of Maine to Caratunk, along the Kennebec River.
"My friend and I had planned to do 115 miles, but his knee was giving him trouble and we had to stop," Strout explains. "The 40 or so miles we did do was enough of a birthday celebration for me."
For Strout, there's nothing like the peace and serenity found when engaged in hiking and cycling, excursions that have taken him past cacti in Arizona, alfalfa fields in Georgia and mountain laurels in North Carolina.
"Every time I get on top of a mountain, I sing a verse of 'How Great Thou Art,'" he says. "The sights I have seen are so splendid, it's almost like a personal walk with the man above.
"I still get emotional thinking about a hike through Virginia, when the rhododendron blossoms were heavy with rain. They washed my face as I passed by. It was like a personal touch from God."
Strout's tips for success:
- Cross train by alternating running with walking, beginning with one or two miles and working up to build endurance.
- Invest in a good bicycle (His favorite is his current vehicle, the Trek LeMond.)
- Music is an excellent motivator to keep moving.
An active member of Columbus Outdoor Pursuits - a not-for-profit organization founded in 1937 to foster an appreciation of nature through recreational and educational travel - Strout has also participated in the group's Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure tours. His favorite was a trip along Lake Erie that explored lighthouses and Native American history. "The beauty was awesome," Strout says.
His most memorable trip is one that would make coach potatoes cringe: In 1995, Strout cycled from coast to coast with Wandering Wheels, an Indiana-based group that conducts bicycle tours around the globe. He began by dipping his wheels in the Pacific at Oceanside, California. Five weeks later, the final mile was logged at the Atlantic Ocean in St. Simons, Georgia.
"I hope to do it again someday. The people along the trail, as well as fellow cyclists, become just like family," he says. "It brings the world closer together."
In the Running
It started 28 years ago as a nightly stroll around the block. Today, Jean Toth is constantly on the run. The champion marathoner has beenawarded more than 880 plaques and trophies for her efforts.
"I'm running out of wall space for them," she says with a laugh.
The 70-year-old has participated in more than 40 marathons around the country, including two in Boston (her best time: 26.2 miles in 3 hours and 43 minutes in 1982), 23 in Cleveland (best time: 26.2 miles in 3 hours and 20 minutes in 1984), as well as contests in Columbus, Las Vegas and Minnesota, and a 50-mile event in Maryland in 1985 that took her 9 hours and 28 minutes to complete. ("That one was a bit scary," she admits.)
Toth enjoys the thrill of victory, but she's also discovered that for her running is the ultimate stress buster.
"When I began running, my boys were young. When they would do something that aggravated me, I'd take off down the block," she says. "By the time I returned, my mind would be relieved, problems would have disappeared, and I felt much better."
Although each win is sweet, Toth enjoys the camaraderie and support she gets from fellow runners.
"Young people are my motivation," she says. "Women in their 40s come up to me and say, 'How do you do it? I want to be just like you, you're so wonderful.'"
For Toth, the key is running three days a week, 8 to 10 miles per session, coupled with spinning, Pilates, yoga and aerobics at the Ultimate Fitness and Sports Club in Eastlake.
"Yoga works wonders," she says. "It helps me maintain flexibility, strength and balance. I recommend it to everybody."
Toth's tips for success:
- Buy the right shoes. "There must be room for your feet to breathe," she says.
- Listen to your body. "Although I don't like to do it, I know when it's time to stop running and start walking during a marathon," Toth says. "I find that when I do slow down for a bit, I can easily get back into the running."
Although there are no kings, queens or pawns, Jack Herrick describes the game of squash as "physical chess."
"As you move up the ability ladder, you begin to make your shots more precise," the 68-year-old Cleveland resident explains. "You are constantly thinking ahead because it is not very often that you can hit an outright winner. You have to maneuver your opponent, try to control the play and finally get to that point where you can make your winning shot. As in chess, you don't just make a move and expect to win. You have to see what's there and be thinking three, four or five moves ahead.
"And the physical part of squash makes it a very demanding game."
But Herrick is passionate about it. As chairman of the board of the Professional Squash Association, headquartered in Cardiff, Wales, he travels to tournaments around the world, which have ranged from those taking place at the pyramids in Cairo, to Boston's prestigious Symphony Hall to courts in South Africa, Pakistan, Scotland, Mexico and Malaysia. In 1983 he won his most significant title, the International Masters Championship in Auckland, New Zealand, in the 45 and over age division, becoming the first American to win a World Squash title.
Herrick played a lot of tennis as a youngster, but wasn't introduced to squash until he was a junior at Dartmouth College. Following graduation, he found success in regional tournaments, and by the time he was in his early 30s, decided to "really go after the game," playing six days a week.
But, he adds, it takes more than playing the game to succeed at it.
"In a sport like squash that requires so much physical exertion, off-the-court training is crucial," he says. "I do a lot of stretching to maintain flexibility, including aerobics to develop the quadriceps, hamstrings, ankles and knees along with a bit of weight work - muscle work is not part of my routine, since muscle can cut down on flexibility and speed on the court."
Herrick's favorite exercise routine is "the dime drill," which involves racing to move a pile of dimes individually from one side of the court to another. "The first time I did it I almost collapsed, and I couldn't even keep the pace for 30 seconds," he recalls. "But it's great way to build up the ability to engage in bursts of speed via your legs, which is essential to the game." He also runs a mile every other day, no exceptions, no excuses.
"If you ask me how many miles I've run in the last thousand days, the answer will always be 500," he says. "If I miss a day, I make it up. By some people's standards, a mile isn't a lot, but for me the discipline of doing it every other day is enough."
His bottom line: Don't make [exercise] so difficult that you're not looking forward to doing it. There are a lot of things I'd rather do than exercise, but exercise comes first."
Herrick's tips for success:
- "To quote the old Carnegie Hall adage: 'practice, practice, practice.'"
- Do what you can do and do it consistently. "Every New Year's Day, people get excited and say, 'This year, I'm going to get into shape.' So they go to a gym, join a club and decide their first day there to run two miles, lift 400 pounds and swim. They leave, saying, 'Gee, I can't wait to come back the next day.' I can almost guarantee that that's only going to last for at best two weeks, after which they'll resign from the club or stop going to the gym. Why? Because what they are trying to do is way, way out of the box. It's too much so they don't do it."
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