The Average, Exceptional Late-Bloomer Athlete

By Karen Kleyle, ACE Certified Personal Trainer

When you think of late-blooming athletes does your mind search for someone famous? Even the word, ‘athlete’ might seem lofty. Working out and getting healthy: what does that mean? What does that entail? Everyone knows they need to do it and it is frequently talked about but rarely ever put to practice. It is like flipping a switch no matter what your age, no matter where one is at their fitness level, or lack thereof. The latter making it hard to even just begin.

People ask me all the time, ‘how did you start running?’

I respond succinctly, ‘I didn’t.’ <Insert shocked look here>

Look, if I would’ve started running, I would’ve stopped before getting to the end of my street (which is 100 feet, give or take). I would’ve huffed and puffed and my heart would’ve felt like it was going to beat out of my chest and I would’ve just stopped. End of running. End of story.

Another conversation:

‘You are a powerlifter?!’

‘I wish I would’ve started doing that when I was a teenager or in my early 20s.’

‘I neither started in my teens nor my 20s, or even my 30s for that matter.’

Why do most think life ceases to exist to beyond youthfulness? (TV, Athletes, Military) I did, too. I succumbed to ‘group think’ or what society teaches us – ‘getting old means laying down and accepting it.’ While days, weeks, months, and years tick away, it does not mean you just cease doing and moving.

Where do I start? What do I do?

What do you like to do? What did you like to do that you no longer do because life got in the way or you simply thought you couldn’t do it anymore because ‘I’m older’.

Let us not forget what our work lives have wrought. According to Harvard Health Newsletter basically, post-Industrial Revolution-into-the-Information-Era changed the way we work and move – or a lack of movement – since workers are using their minds and not their bodies. All the sitting, thinking, and pecking away at a computer, while awesome for progress, leads to increased levels of inactivity putting greater stress on our bodies. Since earning a salary doesn’t require a physical skill or skills and thus, a lack of movement, adults see physical activity – or exercise as something that only our youth do for fun.

Lack of movement can make one feel achy and stiff, thus the sense that one is simply just ‘getting old’. This is even uttered by the younger set (teens and 20s) likely because they’re more sedentary, too (Smart Phone usage, anyone?!). The good old laws of physics applies here: Newton’s first law – put simply -- an object (a body – YOURS) at rest stays at rest and an object (your body) in motion stays in motion.

The first step to get moving is to get a check up from your doctor to get cleared for exercise, and then start reasonably. For example, as previously mentioned, I didn’t just throw on tennis shoes and bolt out the door running. I went out the door for a walk. First it was a mile (or walking for 20 minutes) and I would incorporate Yoga for stretching and mind/body awareness to include proper breathing. After I’d worked up to walking 5+ miles, I thought, let’s try running but first let’s walk to that mailbox and once you get to that mailbox you’re going to start into a light jog. Then I’d tell myself, let’s jog to the next mailbox. I did have an end-goal in mind (which is very important to maintaining any activity) and it was to be able to run the length of the big circle in my neighborhood – 2 miles. It took me 8-10 weeks to be able to run 2 miles non-stop but then I did not stop because the habit made me feel really good and it became a competition within myself. I signed up for races – (there are a lot of great 5K races in your area that are inexpensive and support great causes to help with goal setting!). Then, I kept upping my game, bit by bit, mile by mile, with a timeline in mind to meet each goal until eventually, I worked up to running a full marathon within the timeline I’d set for myself.

The same went for powerlifting. I knew I needed to incorporate strength training into my training regime, so I joined a powerlifting club as a complete newb – at the ripe age of 45. I started with a dowel to get proper form. Then the bar. I did a lot of reps, (A LOT of reps) with what is now considered light weight for me -- to connect my central nervous system with these movement patterns and a whole new way of working out. Nothing lead me to becoming a competitive powerlifter competing in sanctioned meets, but I do. And even if there isn’t a meet on the horizon, I am still working on my form and technique, and yes, increasing my strength. At the age of 48 I am an athlete who trains. Fitness is a lifetime journey that never ends.

Cliff Long