Who knew? Martha McClellan – early childhood specialist and Herald columnist who has written about patient parenting for the last nine years – is a fervent, enduring athlete. McClellan, who recently morphed from writing about parenting to writing about authentic aging, has penned and published The Aging Athlete: What We Do To Stay in the Game.
This smallish and inspirational book delves into the lives of a dozen people, mostly from the Durango area. As their bodies have changed with the passage of time, they have determined to not opt out of their active and challenging lives. These individuals have accomplished as much as younger athletes in such varied competitive sports as running, cycling, triathlons, skiing, swimming, tennis and squash.
McClellan starts her chapters with the following format: Poem, the first name of the athlete and their birth year. Each chapter is titled one word that she feels aptly embodies their strongest trait. Also gracing the opening page of each chapter are striking black and white portraits by local photographer Jonas Grushkin. Each chapter also features photos of the athletes in younger years participating in their sport of choice.
The book opens with the chapter “Me.” McClellan describes her evolution as an athlete and how she took up movement as a means of survival. She began by running and was soon tackling marathons. Body changes and injuries followed. Back surgery led to more changes, but McClellan has learned what works for her over the ensuing decades: adapt and change. She swam, then tried rafting, began hiking and cycling. Her guidelines include always keeping her body moving, being outdoors and breathing deeply.
McClellan goes on to write about 11 athletes. Walt’s chapter, “Persistence,” chronicles a legend in cycling circles. Walt started by riding motorcycles but switched to mountain biking in his late 40s. He continues to compete and rides about 6,000 miles a year. He trains at the gym, does Pilates and, in the winter, goes cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
Though he is obviously a dedicated athlete, one passage about Walt might give some nonathletes pause: “Walt has not had many injuries. He dislocated an ankle ... Had his meniscus removed, injured his clavicle ... Had a double hernia surgery...” What? These sound like quite a few setbacks for any age.
Dee Dee’s chapter is “Adaptation,” and her story is unique in the fact that she is not a lifelong athlete. After a severe accident when she was only 19, Dee Dee was left with a debilitating injury to her right leg. Following three years of surgeries, therapy and rehab, she was able to walk with the use of a cane. Physical therapy was not as advanced as it is now, but fortunately after a move to Boulder, she discovered swimming, and this became her daily exercise. At 59, Dee Dee was introduced to a hand bike and now cycling has become part of her fitness routine.
The other athletes, Brian (“Determination”), Louisa (“Gratitude”), Bill (“Control”), Herb (“Intensity”), Candice (“Appreciation”), Dolph (“Grace”), Marjorie (“Push”), Dennis (“Drive”) and Ned (“Balance”) each have inspiring stories. All the athletes McClellan highlights share her drive to keep moving, no matter what.
Aging requires the athlete to listen to their body’s clues. Former runners might now walk, competitive swimmers might take up golf and many athletes discover the welcome discipline of yoga.
These hardy people deal with the effects of aging by adapting their diets, type of physical activity, training strategies and attitudes in order to stay fit and continue to have active, fulfilling lives. They all share a common approach: Never give up. The Aging Athlete shares strategies for diet, training and other actions that can help anyone – young or not – to lead a more healthful and satisfying life.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Leslie Doran is a Durango freelance reviewer.