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January 8 2019

Australian Senior Rewrites the Rules on Aging and Athletics

by Karla Jacobs

Heather Lee, a 92-year-old world-class Australian athlete, holds five world records—including the 3K, 5K and 10K—and eight Australian records for her age group in race walking. Talk about girl power!

Bari Weiss of the New York Times tried to keep up with her recently and discovered that a fit nonagenarian can scoot around a track. You really should pop over and read the profile she wrote about Lee in the NYT. I’ll wait right here for you.

Lee works out three days a week and walks at least 10,000 steps each day as recorded on her fitness watch. She was athletic in her girlhood, playing hockey and tennis, swimming, biking, and riding horses with her older sister on the Isle of Wight where she was born in 1926. She kept up a lifestyle of health and fitness throughout her adult years, and it has served her well.

As a non-world-class athlete, I am in awe of her. I am on Week 10 of a 20-week half marathon training program for my second half marathon ever. I know a lot of people think it’s nuts to run that far without someone chasing you, but in my defense, the race is in Napa, and I’ve been promised wine after.

I understand the discipline it takes to get up and train day after day, week after week, hot or cold, rain or shine. I wish I had more of it. At a time when most people have been slowing down for a while, Lee is focused on speeding up.

She is truly changing the paradigm of what aging can look like. Granted, she has been blessed with good health in both body and mind, but it still takes a whole load of grit to focus on goals and put in the work to meet them.

She credits her late husband for her drive. When Mr. Lee died of lung cancer in 1996, his last words to her were, “Now is the time to show your mettle.” She has spent her time since living up to his belief in her. He was the love of her life after all.

“I’d like to be a role model for women in their middle years who are putting on a few pounds or thinking of slowing down,” she told Weiss. Age is not a barrier, she added.

I am slightly older than half her age, and it is humbling to compare my athletic accomplishments with hers. The woman can hold a plank for three minutes for goodness sake. Me? I start whining and put my knees down at the 30-second mark. Her goals for 2019 are to beat her best times. Mine is to finish my race without hurting myself. We all have to start somewhere.

However, as I work through the second half of my training plan leading up to race day, I’ll be thinking about Heather Lee. She truly is a role model for women of all ages.

Which reminds me. I need to lace up my running shoes and hit the pavement.

 





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