Achieving your dreams is possible at any stage of life. Don’t believe us? From a 65-year-old who’s setting records for open water swimming, to an 80-year-old who conquered Mount Everest, we’ve found 10 of the most adventurous and active “seniors.” And they’re still accomplishing jaw-dropping feats. These courageous athletes, who are all past the so-called “prime of life,” truly make age seem like just a number.
Though some people give up sports after high school or college, more and more adults are seeking out healthy competition. From road races to marathons to triathlons, many are finding ways to stay active and motivated as they age. The athletes we’ve found — some who have lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the Civil Rights movement — prove that health and fitness don’t have an age. With purpose and dedication, they’re dismissing boundaries and showing the world that speed, strength, athleticism and passion don’t have to fade as the years pass.
1. Sister Madonna Buder
Passion: Triathlons, Ironmans
Known as the “Iron Nun” because of her prolific triathlon and Ironman career, Sister Madonna Buder inspires others with her unwavering optimism and purpose. Because of her drive, she’s been chosen as the face of Nike’s new “Unlimited Youth” video (one part of their “Unlimited” campaign). Crediting “The Man Upstairs” as her coach, this inspirational woman has completed over 360 triathlons and 45 Ironmans — a three-part race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a full marathon.
Sister Madonna chose a cloistered life as a Roman Catholic nun and only began running at age 48, when a priest suggested she take a jog on the beach. Like any triathlete, she’s faced injury and disappointing race days, like when she missed the bike cutoff at Ironman Canada in 2008. But she’s still the oldest person to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon in under the 17-hour time limit. She’s even forced the Ironman organization to create new categories — 75 to 79 and 80 to 84 age groups. She also broke the finish time record for the latter age group, completing an Ironman in 16 hours and 32 minutes. Sister Madonna definitely has a motto we all can live by: “The only failure is not to try, because your effort in itself is a success.”
2. Jacinto Bonilla
Not many 77-year olds crank out Crossfit WODs and have one named after them, but Jacinto Bonilla does. The “Jacinto Storm,” a WOD created on Bonilla’s 69th birthday, consists of 69 squats, 69 wall balls, 69 pull-ups, 69 push-ups, 69 kettlebell swings, and 69 deadlifts (using 95 pounds). The catch? Another rep of each exercise is added every year, meaning it’s due to increase to 78 reps next July.
“Every year my friends are like, ‘When are you going to cap this?’ and I say if I live until 100 there’s going to be 100 reps,” chuckles Bonilla. Since August 2006 when he saw an article about the sport in Men’s Health, Bonilla has trained, coached and competed in Crossfit, a high-intensity workout program consisting of constantly varying functional movements. Though he got sidelined briefly while surviving and recovering from prostate cancer in 2008, he’s proven to be a formidable competitor in the Crossfit Games. A three-time competitor, he’s the oldest person to ever participate in the Games.
3. Paul Tetrick
“Fast wheels are timeless, and so is my Grampy,” writes Alison Tetrick, a 31-year-old professional cyclist on the Cylance Pro Cycling. Her grampy is none other than Paul Tetrick. Paul has won more than 12 USA Cycling Time Trial Championships, a road bicycle race where cyclists battle the clock instead of racing at the same time as their competitors. In October 2013, both Tetricks had the opportunity to ride against each another in the Paula Higgins Memorial Record Challenge Time Trial. Paul confessed to Zipp News that he was afraid his granddaughter, who started 10 minutes behind him, might catch up. Though Alison won gold in the 40K event, she didn’t catch her speedy grandfather, who crushed his previous time trial record of 34:37.5 in the 20K race.
4. Pat Gallant-Charette
Passion: Marathon Swimming
A retired nurse, grandmother and former self-described “spectator mom” from Maine, Pat Gallant-Charette has excelled at open water swimming since she took up the sport more than 15 years ago. Though she had no prior experience, Gallant-Charette began training when she wanted to compete in a local Maine ocean swim in honor of her younger brother who passed away from a heart attack. She’s now on her way to becoming the seventh finisher ever (not to mention the oldest!) of the Oceans Seven. To do so, you have to complete seven of the most challenging and longest open-water swims in the world. With only three swims to go, she was thwarted in January 2014 when, after 10 hours of swimming, intense tidal flows close to the coast of New Zealand prevented her from completing the Cook Strait. “I could have thrown in the towel, but it actually strengthened my resolve,” she says.
Just last month, Gallant-Charette attempted to tackle the English Channel, a 21-mile swim between England and France. She made it 10.5 hours, until a serious case of motion sickness forced her to stop.
5. Louis Self
“Riding and jumping with a wake board, being propelled only by the wind gives an unimaginable rush,” writes Lou Self on his blog, Arizona Lou Kiteboarder. Kiteboarding, a sport that combines surfing, wakeboarding and windsurfing, is increasing in popularity. But its not every day you see a 70-something embracing — and conquering — this extreme sport. “It’s hard for me to resist a challenge,” he says, admitting he’s always the oldest guy on the water. A retired science teacher, Self has been kiteboarding since he turned 58 and can jump over 20-feet off the water.
6. Steve Rounds
You’d think winning a world title once would be good enough for some athletes, but this rower has done it 20 times! Steve Rounds, who once played lacrosse and ice hockey for Cornell University, picked up rowing when he retired at the age of 66. His competition of choice? The 2K sprint, at which he dominates. At the 2014 World Indoor Rowing Championships in Boston, Rounds won his age group. However, he was just seven seconds shy of breaking the 2K world record for his division, 8:10.5. “I’ve done it at home,” Rounds told USA Rowing before the event, “but as I say, home and the real thing are two different things.”
7. Tao Porchon-Lynch
If you’re looking for evidence of yoga’s physical and mental benefits, we found it. Just look at Tao Porchon-Lynch, the world’s oldest yoga teacher who’s still overflowing with youthful exuberance. She started practicing more than 70 years ago while growing up in India. Before that, she was an actress, screenplay and documentary writer. Her personal mantra: “There is nothing you cannot do.” And from the looks of it, she’s practicing what she preaches. She founded the Westchester Institute of Yoga in 1982, collaborated with renowned yogi, Tara Stiles, on a yoga DVD and still manages to hold workshops across the country. She also wrote an autobiography, released in October 2015, Dancing Light: The Spiritual Side of Being Through the Eye of a Modern Yoga Master.
8. Yuichiro Miura
In May 2013 at age 80, this Japanese alpinist became the oldest person to summit the world’s highest mountain. Scaling Mount Everest — which is approximately five and a half miles above sea level — is no small feat for an athlete of any age. (4,000 people have attempted but only 660 have succeeded.) Miura has reached the summit three times in his lifetime — all when he was over the age of 70! And there were more challenges than just insane elevation — Miura had four heart surgeries before his third ascent, making his latest accomplishment that much more awe-inspiring.
Another fun fact: In 1970, Miura skied down the highest peak, which filmmakers documented in “The Man Who Skied Down Mount Everest.” It later won a 1976 Academy Award. This past January, Miura told The Telegraph that he plans to summit Everest again when he turns 90. “You need a target – however big or small – and to build your health and fitness towards it,” he told the paper. He’s clearly a man of his word.
9. Arthur Webb
Ever run five consecutive marathons, or 135 miles, uphill in 130-degree weather? Arthur Webb completed the infamous Badwater Ultramarathon, the toughest footrace in the world, 15 times since he turned 58. He’s finished the grueling course — which winds through scorching Death Valley and scales two mountain ranges — 20 hours faster than anyone else over the age of 70. Ultrarunning Magazine named him a 2012 runner of the year in his age group for this incredible feat. What’s the secret to preparing for the insanely lengthy distance and unforgiving heat? He says he trained by spending time each day in a 170-degree sauna, and put in 100-mile weeks pounding the pavement. “I have always been a mega-mileage freak,” admits Webb, who says his daily two-hour morning “endorphin-filled training runs” in California are his favorite part of ultrarunning. He still holds the record in the 70 to 79 age group for the Badwater race with a time of 33:45:40.
Additional reporting by Mallory Creveling.
Originally published April 2014. Updated August 20, 2016.