independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

The 71-year-old triathalon man

Pat Rutherford only learnt to swim at 65, but he now competes in triathlon events at home and abroad.

Pat Rutherford: "I always have targets and goals. I am hoping to run in the Cape Town World Airline Road Race for over 70s next month."

'I was born in Ballybofey in Donegal in 1942, so I will be 72 in October. I now live in Ennis, Co Clare. I played many different sports when I was younger, but in my late 30s I took up marathon running. By the time I was 45, however, I had stopped running altogether after I got very bad shin splints.

"I had just started a new job with DHL in Dublin, so for two or three years I didn't run at all. I slowly started back over the years, but it wasn't until I retired when I was 60 that I started entering competitions again.

"My wife Phyllis died in 2007 and I now live alone in Ennis. I can't quite imagine what I would be doing without sport in my life. It makes it easy to fill my day. It also keeps me in shape to enjoy playing with my beautiful grandchildren. At my age it's great being able to race around with them and, of course, I always try to beat them!

"I only learnt how to swim properly when I was 65. And now I am doing triathlons. They have given me a new lease in life.

"I try to have two or three planned at a time. I did the Belfast Titanic Triathlon on Sunday, August 4, and a few weeks earlier I did the Galway Aquathon, which was a 1km swim in Galway Bay followed by a 5km run. I came first in my age category of 70-74 (1 hour 7 minutes 45 seconds).

"I am not ashamed to say when it gets rough swimming in the open sea, I get nervous. But I think it is healthy to have that respect.

"Every race I enter and every training session I do I am still trying to improve. My technique is awful but my determination is as strong as ever.

"I always have targets and goals. I am hoping to run for DHL in the Cape Town World Airline Road Race for over 70s next month.

"Every time I go out for a race in the back of mind there is always recognition that this could be my last. So, when I say I am doing Cape Town in October, it is always God willing.

"It is great to be able to do personal bests at this age. I reckon I could swim a kilometre tomorrow faster than I could have done a month ago. You start a new sport and years later you are still improving. That for me is a case of Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah!

"A lot of my motivation to do this comes from being a volunteer coach for Special Olympic athletes with the Brothers of Charity. I wasn't qualified as a coach when I started but I recently got my level one athletics badge.

"Seeing Special Olympic athletes competing and getting better is such an inspiration. One of our lads, who does the 1,500m walk, had polio and one leg is shorter than the other. But he still gives it welly even though he walks with a heavy lean.

"I cannot explain how phenomenally motivational it is to see how much he has come on. Not that I am a great coach, but you build up a relationship with each one of the athletes and you are there to cheer on each tiny improvement.

"When people say you're great for doing that kind of stuff, I tell them, 'Great my arse!' I get so much out of it I'd pay to do it.

"Over the years, I have had every injury in the book. But one of the things you learn is to wait for your body to heal and not to push it. You have to take the advice and let your body heal. That is why I have an extended career. I got smart and listened to my body. But only when I was 60!

"When I got my shin splints I was told to rest up for two months but went back after a few weeks. That is something I learned to regret very quickly.

'I tend to get a lot of slagging off over the triathlons and training. But at my age you are not looking for plaudits. I say to people, "Do you enjoy your holidays? Well, retirement is the biggest holiday you are ever going to have. And to enjoy it to its full you have to stay fit."

"With all the training, I have come to realise that you can build muscle at any age, even in your 80s. It just takes longer.

"But for those looking to start late in life I think the best sport is swimming because you are not going to get injured. If you start running the chances of getting injured is high because people don't have the patience to warm up properly.

"I am curious as to what happens next. Maybe I will start playing bridge. But I will have to learn because I haven't a clue how to play. However, I want to keep competing for as long as I can. "And when people joke and say I am mad, I tell them I'd always prefer to crash out rather than fade out."

For more information on triathlons visit www.triathlonireland.com.

Irish Independent

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