Staying Young Never Gets Old. That’s the name of this inspiring essay by New York public relations executive and essayist Bob Brody. The gist of it is, why stop living young if you don’t have to?
At age 66, I still play pick-up basketball on the schoolyard courts around the corner from the apartment where I live. My teammates and opponents have an average age of probably about 25-years-old.
But what may be most surprising about my presence out there on the courts is that increasingly it’s no surprise at all. Right now we’re seeing more older athletes, amateur and professional alike, excel and even dominate.
Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, is a case in point. The NFL named him Most Valuable Player last year after he set a record for most passing yards in a Super Bowl. He was 40. With five Super Bowl wins already under his belt, he recently made his pre-season debut at age 41. The other week he announced he plans to play until he’s 45.
In tennis, Roger Federer is still at the top of his game, currently ranked number-two in the world despite being 36. He has won 20 singles titles in Grand Slam tournaments, more than any other male player. Four titles came after age 30, equaling Rod Laver on that score, with three last year and one this year.
So it goes in baseball, too, with Ichiro Suzuki and Bartolo Colon still going at 44. In hockey, with Matt Cullen at 41. In soccer, with Kazuyoshi Mirua at 51.
In basketball, LeBron James is, at 33, still improving. Last season, he played all 82 games, tying for most minutes played in the National Basketball Association as he all but singlehandedly led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the finals.
Of course the phenomenon of the long-lasting athlete is hardly unprecedented. Boxer George Foreman famously came out of retirement to regain the heavyweight championship at age 45, and Archie Moore fought until he hit 49. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shot his patented skyhook for the Los Angeles Lakers until retiring at 42. George Blanda played in the National Football League just past age 48, the oldest in the history of the league, with a record 26 seasons.
These and other legacies inspired me, as I came of age, to believe that maybe I, too, could keep going. Nor am I alone in this respect. I know a few fellow hoopsters who actually have a few years on me. One competitor, now 71, gets out there even though he has had both his hips replaced. He can no longer run or jump or bend over for a loose ball, but he can still dribble, pass, and shoot.
About 20 years ago, kids at the playground started occasionally asking me my age. None of the teenagers and young men appeared to expect to hear the number I gave. Some would exclaim, “You’re older than my father!”
Shortly before Nolan Ryan retired as a pitcher with the Houston Astros, I got the chance to interview him for a magazine. Well into his 40se could still fire fastballs at 90-plus miles per hour — he registered his seventh career no-hitter at 44 — and finally left the mound at 46. I asked how he felt about everyone always asking him about his age.
His answer: “It gets old.”
Indeed it does.
Even so, lately I feel myself serving a higher purpose out there on the courts. As I venture to extend the frontiers of athletic longevity and go beyond the normal expiration dates, maybe I can set an example to follow. Maybe the kids who see me play will have the heart to stay with it too.
There’s always hope.
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Bob Brody is author of the memoir, “Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.”