Olympics Special Edition: Who Are the Most Awe-Inspiring Senior Athletes?

The Olympics started this past week and there have been some incredible moments already. For some of us, watching the amazing feats of the world’s best swimmers, runners, gymnasts, and triathletes (to name just a handful of Olympic events) has inspired us to get out there and be active ourselves. For others, even those in their 80s, 90s, and 100s, being active and excelling at a sport is a way of life. We will discuss some of these fascinating athletes and how they keep it going!

Don Pellman, 100-year-old Olympian

In the 2015 San Diego Senior Olympics, Don Pellman set five new world records – at age 100. He was the oldest person competing in the games when he became the first centenarian to complete the 100-meter dash in under 27 seconds, and the first to clear the bar at an official height for the high jump. In addition to his achievements as the first centenarian, he also set new records in shot-put, long jump, and discus for his age bracket.

Don passed away last fall at the age of 105. Up until the end, he pushed himself and aimed high. He’s still tied with Jesse Owens’s record for setting the most world records in one day.

There hasn’t been another hundred year old Olympic athlete since Don, but there have been many others who we remember fondly, who are now in their senior years. Do you ever wonder what happened to some of the famous Olympic stars of the past, such as Mary Lou Retton, Leon Spinks, and Mark Spitz? Click here to read about them in this Next Avenue article.

Other Amazing Senior Athletes

These athletes are not Olympians, but they are still incredibly awe-inspiring. Many of them started their sports later in life and are still going into their octogenarian years and beyond.

78-year-old Skateboarder, Lloyd Kahn, Started Skateboarding at 65

At 65, Lloyd Kahn decided that the time had come for him to try skateboarding. He stood up on a board (for the first time in his life), fell immediately, and hurt his hand. From that experience, he concluded that he should wear full protective gear: knee pads, elbow pads, a helmet, wrist guards.

Giving up wasn’t an option for Lloyd. He continued skateboarding and got really good at it. Now, at 78, Lloyd spends nearly every day zooming around his seaside town of Bolinas on his board. He picks streets that have long, gradual descents, and, with gentle turns, skates down them.

Sister Madonna Buder is a Marathon Runner and a Nun at 90 years old

At age 47, Sister Madonna Buder started running after a priest discussed the benefits of doing so, saying that running harmonizes the mind, body and soul. She became obsessed with it, running up to 70 miles a week, until she started feeling some “running burnout,” which at age 52 is when her triathlon adventure began.

Since then, she runs or bikes pretty much anywhere she goes, which most often means to a church, or to a school, or to the jail, where she prays and talks with inmates at least once a week.

After all of her training, Buder became the oldest human to ever complete an Ironman triathlon, finishing the Subaru Ironman Canada race at age 82.

Through it all, she has broken bones, suffered severe road rash, torn her meniscus, gashed open her head, pulled muscles, and been laid up in bed, explaining how she was once “wrapped in so much white gauze I looked like a mummy.” But she didn’t quit. What she enjoyed most was the spirit of camaraderie, describing other triathlon athletes as her “extended family.”

It wasn’t until she turned 86 that Nike did a television ad featuring her, “The Iron Nun.” Now, Buder gets constant requests to speak at events around the world, yet always remains humble. Buder has completed more than 40 Ironman triathlons and shows no sign of slowing down.

At 110, Stanislaw Kowalski is the Oldest Polish Sprinter

Currently the oldest athlete in the world (and the oldest man living in Poland), Stanisław Kowalski shows that it’s never too late to begin a sport. He started track and field at the age of 104! He had never trained in any other sport before, and over the years his only constant physical activity was commuting to work on a bike.

His most important achievements and current world and European records include being named the European Masters Indoor Champion (Category M100) in the 60 meter run, shot, and throw and being named the World and European champion in Europe M105+ in the 100 meter run.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Stanislaw is no longer in competition, but he still has a lot of positive energy and a sense of humor. At 110, he has no serious health problems and still tries to be physically active.

Johanna Quaas, 95 year old Gymnast

Johanna Quaas is a 95-year old gymnast who wowed the audience at the June 2017 International German Gymnastics Festival with an impressive parallel bar routine that would be inspiring at any age. According to the Washington  Post, Johanna currently holds the Guinness World Record for being the oldest gymnast, a title she’s held since 2012.

Johanna began the sport in 1934 – when she was just 9 years old. After having her family, she took some time off to focus on coaching, but began competing again for herself when she was 56.

“I do gymnastics to avoid being susceptible to falls and that is a good preventive tool,” she said.

When she was first named the world’s oldest gymnast, her goal was to still be participating in the sport when she was 90. That milestone has come and gone, and Johanna has no intention of stopping any time soon. On top of that, she’s also a championship handball player as well!

What Do All These Athletes Have in Common?

All of the senior athletes described have one major thing in common — they don’t give up! Keeping an up-beat attitude and refusing to quit can help older people — whether world class athletes or those with more sedentary lifestyles — better respond to stress and improve their health as they age.

Research has also shown that positive attitudes and a refusal to quit in old age are linked to delays with the onset of cognitive decline, longevity, and cardiovascular events, according to Dr. Thomas M. Hess, a psychologist at North Carolina State University.

Besides resilience and a refusal to quit, all of these athletes continue to exercise. According to a recent Time article, “exercise not only improves heart and lung health, but research shows that even modest physical activity is good for the brain, bones, muscles and mood. Numerous studies have found that lifelong exercise may keep people healthier for longer; delay the onset of 40 chronic conditions or diseases; stave off cognitive decline; reduce the risk of falls; alleviate depression, stress and anxiety; and may even help people live longer.” Learn more here.

Keep Being Active to Stay Healthy as Long as Possible

Most people want to stay healthy and remain in their home for as long as possible, and being active and exercising certainly helps, but it may not always be enough. When the time comes that a loved one needs assistance in the home, and a move to an assisted living facility or a move to a nursing home might be in the future, it is always wise to plan ahead. As Life Care Planning attorneys and Medicaid Asset Protection attorneys, we help elders get the best possible care while maintaining the highest levels of dignity and quality of life, usually protecting assets in the process from the catastrophic costs of nursing home care. Please contact us whenever you’re ready to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Elder Law Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law Attorney DC: 202-587-2797
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