The Joy of Competition

Updated on June 23, 2015

By Bob Kelsoe

Something I said as a kid has haunted me for many years.  What I said was “I don’t care if I live past the age of 40.”  At the age of ten, my perspective was that anything over 40 was old.  I really thought that I wouldn’t be able to play sports, ride motorcycles and do the things I loved.  I had visions of myself shuffling behind a walker and carrying a bottle of oxygen.  What would be the point of living?

Luckily, I couldn’t have been more wrong!  Athletes today are pushing themselves well beyond the age of 40.  In fact, its not uncommon to see athletes that are competing into their 60’s or 70’s.  There is currently a revolution taking place in Masters & Veterans athletics.  Athletes all over the world are returning to competition decades after they retired from the sports they love.  Today, there are Masters and veterans competitions for swimming, track, cycling, wrestling, to name a few.

Over the past decade, I’ve competed as a veteran wrestler, desert racer and bicycle racer.  During this time, I have made every mistake in the book.  I’ve also learned a lot and had some success.  In this article, I will outline some of the things I’ve learned to help the aspiring Masters athlete shorten their learning curve.

LEARN TO TRAIN.  Become a student of your sport.  There have been tremendous advances in exercise physiology and kinesiology in the last 20 years.  Do research and find out what elite athletes are doing.  Forget what you did in High School and College.  Train the systems that are relevant to your sport.  If you are a sprinter, don’t run 10 miles per day.  Train like a sprinter not a marathon runner.

Buy a gym membership.  Focus on compound lifts that train the entire body and develop athleticism.  Your lifting program should include bench press, parallel squat, power clean and dead lift.  Avoid lifts that only isolate one joint at a time.  Train with free weights and avoid machines.  Find a program that works for you.  Some of the more popular ones include Crossfit, Starting Strength and “Bigger, Faster, Stronger.  An athlete should have a plan each time he steps into the gym.  Know exactly which exercises you will be doing and how much weight you will be lifting.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH THE TOUGH STOP.  As a masters athlete, you can no longer train by the same principles you did in your youth.  You no longer have the luxury of pushing through the pain.  When you get joint or muscle pain during a training session, it can quickly turn into a catastrophic injury.  In the past five years, I have personally suffered a broken nose, torn calve muscle, torn pectoral muscle, separated shoulder and torn PCL.  These types of injuries don’t heal in a few weeks like they did when we were young.  Now they take months or years to heal.  Some injuries never fully heal.  You just learn to manage the pain.

KEEP IT FUN.  Find other masters athletes to train with.  They will push you and keep you focused.  It will also give you an opportunity to make new friends that have similar interests.  Learn to compete for the love of your sport.  Be competitive, but don’t take it too seriously.  Becoming a Masters athlete should invigorate your training and give you new focus.  Don’t let working out become a chore.  When I compete at the Veterans National Wrestling Championships, I do so with the intent of winning.  But, at the end of the day, everyone is a winner.  In a brutal sport like wrestling, every athlete who trains, cuts weight and prepares their body for competition is a winner.  Medals and plaques are icing on the cake.

KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE.  When many of us were youngsters, we had the luxury of tunnel vision.  The pursuit of our athletic aspirations were at the top of our priority list.  Now, we have things in our lives that are much more important.  Take stock of your life and prioritize your commitments and responsibilities.  Put your athletics in the appropriate column.  Be careful to not let the important things in your life suffer in the pursuit of championships and records.  To quote legendary coach John Wooden, “Next to love, balance is the most important thing in life.”

The most important part of being a Masters athlete is the memories you make and the people you meet.  Some of my most memorable experiences as an athlete have come after the age of 40.  It has also given my Family unique opportunities to bond.  I’ve been the coach of my two sons for many years.  At the 2013 Veterans National Wrestling Championships, they finally got to coach me.  Having them in my corner while I competed was something I will never forget.  It was a moment that most Fathers and sons will never experience.  That’s what counts.  At our age its not about winning and losing.  Everyone that competes wins.


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