Achieving your dreams is possible at any stage of life. Don’t believe us? From a 63-year-old nurse who’s setting world records for open water swimming, to an 80-year-old who just conquered Mount Everest, we’ve found 10 of the most adventurous and active “seniors” who are 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 like road races, marathons or triathlons, 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. Jacinto Bonilla
Not many 74-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 75 reps this 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 type 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. As the oldest athlete in 2012, he placed 17th in the world in the masters 60+ division, and now he’s looking to qualify again for the Games this May.
2. Sister Madonna
Passion: Triathlons, Ironmans
Known as the “Iron Nun” because of her prolific triathlon and Ironman career, Sister Madonna inspires others with her unwavering optimism and purpose. Crediting “The Man Upstairs” as her coach, this inspirational woman has completed over 360 triathlons and 45 Ironmans, a three-part race which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a full marathon. She 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. She is the oldest person to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon in under the 17-hour time limit, and has forced the Ironman organization to create new categories — 75 to 79 and 80 to 84 age groups — as Sister Madonna continues to compete.
3. Paul Tetrick
“Fast wheels are timeless, and so is my Grampy,” writes Alison Tetrick, a 28-year-old professional cyclist on the US National Team. Her grampy is none other than Paul Tetrick, who has won 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 to him. 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 full-time registered 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 only 15 years ago. Though she had no prior experience, Gallant-Charette began training when she wanted to complete 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 fifth finisher ever (not to mention the oldest!) of the Oceans Seven, completing 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. Charette will take on the North Channel, a demanding swim between Great Britain and Ireland, in 2015 and will return for redemption at the Cook Strait in 2016.
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 aspects of surfing, wakeboarding and windsurfing, is increasing in popularity and is set to replace windsurfing in the 2016 Summer Rio Olympics. 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. Olga Kotelko
Passion: Track and Field
Kotelko’s inspiring spirit and determination are the subject of What Makes Olga Run?, a new book that examines the aging process and Kotelko’s unusually prosperous health in her golden years. What’s so special about her? She’s a dominant force in Masters Track and Field, and currently holds all 17 of the world records in her age category. Did we mention that she’s 94? That’s more than two times as old as the eldest member of Team USA was during the 2014 Sochi Olympics (Ann Swisshelm, 45, of the women’s curling team). Holding over 23 world records, Kotelko competes in long jump, triple jump, high jump, shot put, discus, javelin, weight throw, and various sprint distances.
7. Steve Rounds
You’d think winning a world title once would be good enough for some athletes, but this rower’s done it 20 times! Steve Rounds, who once played lacrosse and ice hockey for Cornell University, picked up rowing when he retired from work 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 but 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.” Here’s to hoping Rounds can set the new record next time around.
8. Tao Porchon-Lynch
If you’re looking for evidence of yoga’s physical and mental benefits, take a look at Tao Porchon-Lynch, the world’s oldest yoga teacher who’s still overflowing with youthful exuberance. She started practicing over 70 years ago while growing up in India and, before that, 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.
9. 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 this time around — Miura had four heart surgeries before his third ascent, making his latest accomplishment that much more awe-inspiring.
10. 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. Last year, Ultrarunning Magazine named him 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. For next year, he’s striving to run 100 miles in under 22 hours so he’ll break the record for 70-75 year old Americans.
Did we leave out any of your favorites? Let us know who inspires you in the comments section below.