There seems to be a double standard with aging, especially as it relates to athletes and females. Dara Torres, a great American swimmer, has recently gained a lot of attention. Not because she is an incredible swimmer, but because she is 41 years old and has qualified for the Olympic Games. People are so quick to put an expiration date on the abilities of an athlete, especially if they are a female. Did you know there will be many more experienced aged athletes (for their sport) at the Olympic Games including the likes of Equestrian rider Ian Miller (61-years old), Kayaker David Miller (41-years old), German Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina (33-years old) and Cyclist Jeannie Longo (49 years old), to name a few?
When an athlete starts performing poorly and they are older the natural tendency is to attribute it to one’s age – ‘they are getting up there in age so they are not as good as they were when they were younger.’ While, I acknowledge the effects of aging on the body, sometimes people may be experiencing personal problems, fatigue, an injury or just are in a slump. But, because someone is beyond a certain age common for their sport there is a natural tendency to attribute poor performances to age. This kind of stereotype is NOT acceptable in the workforce so why is it in sports. It actually is ageism and IT’S WRONG!
The modern athlete trains under advanced conditions/knowledge, eats & recovers more wisely, and has the access of therapists who are constantly finding better ways to treat athletes. Knowledge is a click away with the birth of the internet and high quality 3-dimensional computer analysis for biomechanics. Facilities and sports equipments are also improving. All of these factors assist in extending the competitive life of an athlete. Doesn’t it make sense that athletes are lasting in their sports? Moreover, there is something called “mastery.” It takes an athlete approximately 10 years or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a sport.
Ironically, parents unknowingly will clamor to have their child specialize in a sport at an early age with hopes of little Johnny becoming the next great one (citing figures like Tiger Wood as their example). What most don’t realize is that Tiger Woods is the exception and not the norm. An athlete’s best chance at becoming elite is a resume which includes a rich, diverse sport background encapsulating many sports, while delaying specialization. Which, when done properly can extend an athlete’s life incredibly.
One last note – female athletes may not stay in sports as long as their male counter parts, not because of being too old, but because of a new passionate commitment to a family. They become wives and mothers -- carrying a child in their womb for 9 months and then engaging in caretaking and raising a family. So to women like Torres I give a loud support, cheer and applaud.
Fortunately, for me my performances now are stronger than they’ve ever been, as I’m starting to understand the high jump. True, I began track and field when I was almost 18 years old, so perhaps I’m benefiting from delayed specialization. Thus, my blog is not a response to any personal assailment I may have encountered. But, just an observation of another double standard some women and aging athletes may endure. And in case you were wondering – yes, you probably can continue to look for me for another 4 years or so in athletics…or at least until it is not fun anymore.
Proud to be a woman, an athlete and 31 years of age,
Nicole W. Forrester, Masters of Education (M.Ed, B.Sc and B.A)
6-Time Canadian Champion
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