Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Your grandma wears hiking boots. (older women athletes).

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Age tugs at all of our heels, sooner or later, slyly cajoling us to slow, to rest, and, ultimately, to halt. But you don't have to listen. Here are five women who have turned a deaf ear to Age's demands. Next time you think you're too old to try something new, remember these athletes.

Mary Kirsling, 74 Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mary Kirsling thought decades on her feet nursing the sick had kept her in good condition. So in 1987, at age 64, she was stunned at how bad she felt after running to her street corner. "I was out of breath. It was shock of my life," she says. So Kirsling decided to train for a 5K. "I'd run one telephone pole further each day. I never got sore. I never got hurt." Ten years later, at 74, she's still improving. She has a coach, Olympian Shelly Steely, and runs track sessions with a group of youngsters that includes her own grandson. She has, however, given up on 5K's -- "They are so overrun with kids, you can hardly move." Now she's moved up to half-marathons. Running, Kirsling says, is an outlet for emotions that accumulated during 30 years of working in hospitals. "I think I was saving it all up," says the mother of four, grandmother of nine, and great-grandmother of one. "Taking care of people, especially children, who I knew would never be healthy enough to run around -- well, that's a very humbling experience. I take nothing for granted."

Keiko Fukuda, 84 San Francisco, California

"Be strong. Be gentle. Be beautiful from the inside, out." This is the motto judo great Keiko Fukuda has lived by all her years. Renowned around the globe as judo's wisest woman, Fukuda Sensei (sensei means teacher in Japanese) still practices her passion despite triple heart bypass surgery at 78, severe arthritis and serious problems with her spine. "Her doctors all come to her demonstrations to watch her. Her cardiologist says she's a miracle," says Dr. Shelley Fernandez, a close friend since 1966. At that time she helped the judo master move from her native Tokyo to California's Bay Area to teach her art at Mills College, a women's college in Oakland. Fukuda Sensei says she is determined to continue teaching, from a wheelchair if need be. She's taught thousands over the years, and Soko Joshi Judo, the women's judo club she established in the '60s, still flourishes. "Judo is her life," Fernandez says. "She is totally centered in it, and she's never deviated from it. It permeates everything she does. Her mind, her body and her spirit work together."

June Brissenden, 81 Rogue River, Oregon

June Brissenden become a celebrity when, at 77, she cross-country skied through Siberia. "The village people all gathered around me," she recalls. "Especially the older women. They were amazed by me. They said they skied 'til they were 50. No longer." Brissenden was, by far, the most senior of a contingent of "four crazy American women" schussing through snowy Siberia in 1993. She skied by day and camped by night in a tent. Not bad for a grandmother who had taken up the sport only nine years earlier at age 69. Brissenden began skiing after her husband, Harry, died just months short of their 40th wedding anniversary. Now, she continues to cultivate what she calls her "country kid" self. She went heli-skiing last winter, and hopes to improve her telemarking skills. Her spirit spurs on others, such as her granddaughter Liesl, who marvels, "Sometimes I find myself thinking, 'Oh, I'm too old to try that sport.' Then I think of Grandma. And I think, 'No, I'm not.'"

Edna Allen, 55 Detroit, Michigan

When people ask Edna Allen if she's finally hung up her gym shoes, she's got a ready response: "I say, `Yeah, at the end of the season, I hang `em up. And at the beginning of the season, I take `em down." The matriarch of Detroit basketball, Allen says that at 55 she has last her explosive speed and same flexibility in her knee, smashed in a car accident a few years back. Still, on Sundays when she plays in the women's league with others half her age, she'll inevitably outplay an unfortunate sale who has never come around before. "The regulars have fun with it," Allen says laughing. "They'll say, `Do you have any idea how old she is? Take a guess.' The new one will say, '40? 45?' When they hear I'm 55, it's `Are you okay?'" She's as determined as she was as a little girl in Coffeeville, Mississippi, playing basketball with her brothers and an old tire. Now, she's still stuffing it amongst the guys. To keep her reflexes sharp, she plays a couple of weekly full-court games in a men's masters league. "The men think it's embarrassing when I score on them," she says. "But I don't see any difference."

Helen Klein, 74 Rancho Cordova, California

Endurance athlete extraordinaire Helen Klein receives fan letters each week, but one of her greatest compliments came as a fluke at the end of the 1995 Eco-Challenge, a 373-mile, 9-day race. A cameraman caught footage of a team that had passed me," Klein says. "They were resting when one of them looked up and saw me running down the hill. They were frantic. I heard one of them say, `Oh my God! Here she comes! Get your packs! We gotta go!'" The picture of herself, at 72, terrorizing young competitors with her silver hair and time-tested stamina was definitely not the old age Klein had envisioned for herself. "I was programmed to believe I'd be an old lady who couldn't walk a mile, who played bridge and went to lunches," says the great-grandmother. An emergency room nurse before she began training at 55, she says deprogramming others, especially women, from such debilitating thinking is her current life's work. "There's too much separation between the mind and the body in our culture. What's the sense of living to 100 if you can't mover?"

Source Citation:Gottesman, Jane. "Your grandma wears hiking boots." Women's Sports and Fitness 19.n4 (May 1997): 45(6). General OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 7 Oct. 2009

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