Too old to compete?

Waking and wondering how I will get out of bed …… sideways, slide out the bottom or role onto my tummy getting my knees on to the floor and standing from there.  I just don’t know because everything hurts.  But I can’t complain, I had been warned there be no sympathy, and certainly no help. They don’t understand the reasons…… I missed it and I loved it, it was 30 minutes of pure fun, and as Brian O’Driscoll described it “Getting hurt? You recover from it. And the pain does subside and I don’t know, in a really perverted way, legally inflicting pain on someone else gives you a thrill,” Unfortunately It seems like now on the morning after my first and possibly last over 35s rugby game I was the recipient of far more punishment than I got to deliver. I can’t even laugh!

Competitive sport is typically associated with young people. Older adults are encouraged to focus on the benefits derived from regular physical activities like walking, dancing and fitness classes, and are discouraged from participating in extremely strenuous exercise due to the fear of injury and poor performance. For years it has seemed that the most competitive sports older adults took part in were golf and bowls —two sports with minimal athletic skills needed. However, things are rapidly changing and more adults are finding more ways to physically challenge themselves. This rising phenomenon of older people older sportcompeting in sport is challenging traditional assumptions (Dionigi, 2006). Seniors who stay active above and beyond recommended minimal levels do much more than stay healthy. They perform an important social role by challenging societal expectations and stereotyping of what it means to grow old (Ory et al., 2003).  Ed Whitlock, at age 72, set a world record for being the oldest person to run a marathon in less than 3 hours running the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in September 2004, running the 26.2 mile course in 2 hours 54 minutes 49 seconds!


So the naysayers – “It’s too late, you’re too old and you’ll wear yourself out” – are wrong. In marathons a quarter of the 65–69 year-old runners tend to be quicker than half of the 20-54 year-old runners. The same study also revealed that more than quarter of these 65 – 69 year-old runners had only taken up running in the previous 5 years (Leyk et al., 2010).This large group of older athletes running marathons demonstrate that even at an advanced age, high levels of performance can be realized through committed training. These improvements can be maintained well into old age with significant decline in running performance only seen at 75 years old! (Wright & Perricelli, 2008).

As we age, our capacity to play the traditional competitive sports of our youth (football, rugby etc) at a highly competitive level changes. Our bodies were no longer what they used to be, and rugby really hurts. Our once blossoming careers in high impact, fast, contact sport may need to be adapted to a more cerebral game of competitive age group rugby (it still hurts). It must be remembered that at least a portion of the changes that are frequently attributed to aging is in fact caused by disuse and is therefore can be prevented (Bortz, 1982). The key to staying active as we age may be in reigniting our enjoyment of competition, rather than being discouraged it should be cultivated and developed.  But for now I have to try negotiating a stairs with legs that are sore and as stiff as scaffolding poles.



Bortz WM, 2nd. (1982). Disuse and aging. Jama 248, 1203-1208.


Dionigi R. (2006). Competitive sport and aging: the need for qualitative sociological research. J Aging Phys Act 14, 365-379.


Leyk D, Ruther T, Wunderlich M, Sievert A, Essfeld D, Witzki A, Erley O, Kuchmeister G, Piekarski C & Lollgen H. (2010). Physical performance in middle age and old age: good news for our sedentary and aging society. Dtsch Arztebl Int 107, 809-816.


Ory M, Kinney Hoffman M, Hawkins M, Sanner B & Mockenhaupt R. (2003). Challenging aging stereotypes: strategies for creating a more active society. Am J Prev Med 25, 164-171.


Wright VJ & Perricelli BC. (2008). Age-related rates of decline in performance among elite senior athletes. Am J Sports Med 36, 443-450.


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I qualified with an Honours degree in Physiotherapy from Trinity College Dublin in 2004. Since graduating I have worked in St. James Hospital Dublin and have worked in all the areas of speciality within the hospital including cardiorespiratory, orthopaedics, rheumatology, care of the elderly, neurology, burns and plastic surgery among others . I have also completed a post graduate certificate in acupuncture in UCD 2009. The Physiotherapy Department in SJH has strong links with Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and I have supervised undergraduate and postgraduate physiotherapy students on practice placements and also delivered lectures on the undergraduate academic programme in TCD. I have a keen interest in all sports and currently plays with Cill Dara RFC 1st team squad, and Milltown GAA. I have previously worked as Physiotherapist to Co. Carlow Senior GAA Team, Milltown GAA, Leinster Junior Rugby Team and Cill Dara RFC. I am an experienced runner and competed in the Dublin City Marathon in 2002. I continue to participate in running events and multisport disciplines such as Gaelforce West, Gaelforce North and the Motivate Challenge. I have a particular interest in strength and conditioning. I utilise this knowledge of resistance training in the treatment of his clients. I am committed to continuous learning and development in order to ensure the optimal level of care is offered to my clients, and with this in mind I am currently undertaking a certification in Strength and Conditioning (CSCS) with the NSCA.

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