On Turning 80

By Dr. Steve Jonas | Jan. 17, 2017, 6:23 p.m. (ET)

On Jan. 1, 2016, even though I wouldn’t become 80 until Nov. 22, I entered the USA Triathlon 80-84 age group. That’s because, as most readers of this column already know, the age group you are in is determined by the age you reach during that calendar year (which makes age-group determination much easier for race directors/scorers.). So, I had “aged up,” in terms of racing, that is. As I tell folks every once in a while, being in, and being able to stay in, a racing sport that scores by age groups means that, as long you stay healthy and stay in the sport, you may actually look forward to “aging up.” One consideration is that as you do so, the competition for podium spots gradually thins out. That is, if that’s your thing.

Well, as slow as I am, that thing has always been a factor for me, for it adds to the fun of the racing itself. It happens that in my region, the New York Metropolitan Area, my age group has been rather thin since I was in my 60s. And so, in most of my local races (and most of my races have been local), I have come home with a first, second or third-place age-group plaque/trophy. For someone who was always the kid chosen last for the pick-up softball game, that has always meant a lot to me. Except for downhill skiing, which I took up in my 20s and stayed with until three years ago, until I discovered triathlon, I never considered myself to be an athlete. Then I became one, and for me, getting an age-group plaque/trophy, no matter where I came in overall, well, that added spice to the experience. 

But turning 80 itself, that was different. For those of us born in the 1930s (and, I suppose, in the 40s and 50s too), 80 had a sort of a special ring to it. Eighty was old. Eighty was an age our grandparents reached, if they were that fortunate. My three grandparents who were living as I was growing up, all reached 80 in the 1950s and while with it, they were considered indeed old. And when my parents each reached 80 in the late 1980s, they were getting old too. 

But here I am 80, and I feel anything but old. Nor do I act anything but old, ranging from the writing that I do, to the still heavy schedule in New York City of theater, opera, movies and museum-visiting, to travel, to keeping up with everything I need to do just to keep the wheels of my life spinning. I am fond of saying, as a supposedly retired academic, having been a career-long writer who happens to have kept on writing at a fairly blistering pace, that I have failed retirement.

I am fortunate that I am still in excellent health, in part because I am blessed with the genes of long life on both sides of my family, in part because I eat right, but in major part of course because I stay physically active. I am blessed too having been a tri/duathlete for 34 seasons (and 250 races). I am also blessed by the long-time association that I have had with USA Triathlon, in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the privilege of being able to write this column just about every month.

So, I got to 80, and what did I feel? Given what I knew about my grandparents, I felt wonderment at having made it, feeling the way I do: not old. Knowing that close to 25 percent of my medical school classmates have already passed away, I feel gratitude that I am not among them. Yes, I have slowed down some in getting around and even moreso in the races. But obviously, I still do get around and I am certainly looking forward to our next racing season, with six to seven races already planned. I am still getting athletic injuries, minor to be sure. Not too many 80 year-olds can say that! And then — assuming that I am able to stay healthy — I am already thinking about the next age-up, to the 85-89 age group. That’s only four years off now. Hey, you never know!



This series of thoughts and recommendations about multisport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, "101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes" (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

Steve’s most recent multisport book is "Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It" (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

His first book on multisport racing, "Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®" 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Dr. Jonas recently was featured in World Class Magazine. Click here to read the article.