Wednesday 24 January 2018

Athletics: Age no barrier to our master athletes

Eamonn Sweeney

Growing old can seem like a grim prospect. Once you cross the 40 barrier, you start becoming resigned to a future where the legs are slower, the aches get sorer and the sporting dreams of your youth seem impossibly distant. With the best will in the world, what can you do? The human body isn't cut out for athletic activity once we pass the half century.

That's why I felt incredibly heartened by last week's national masters athletics championships in Tullamore. Because it appears there is a hard band of runners, jumpers and throwers out there who have discovered that while you can't stop father time, you can certainly slow him down.

How else do you account for a performance like that from Michael McGrath of Queen's University, whose 1.85m high jump puts him just three centimetres outside the Irish top ten this year? McGrath is 49. Former Olympic walker Jimmy McDonald is three years younger but he was recently good enough to win the 3,000m walk at the national athletics league finals for his club Menapians of Wexford. The 23.32:48 he clocked in Tullamore for the 5,000m walk is the kind of time which helped him win two world Masters titles last year. And as you move up the ages, there are other performances which show you don't have to surrender to the years. Joe Gough of West Waterford is 57 and can still post 58.56 for the 400m and 2.17.59 for the 800m, marks which would be outside the compass of anyone but a well-trained sportsman of any age.

You can say the same about Brian Lynch of North East Runners' 4.31:63, for 1,500m, also in the 55-59 age group. Patrick Mahon of Gowran recently managed a whopping 5.71m in the long jump; he's over 50, as is Patrick Logan of Dundrum South Dublin who ran 11.95 for the 100m and 24.30 for 200m in Tullamore.

The championships also featured an athlete over 70, Jim McEvoy of Lourdes, who can still get under three minutes for 800m. Try beating his 2.55.13 on the road. Over 75, John D Ryan of Mid Ulster's 14.29 for 100m and 29.28 for 200m would see him outsprint most of the population too.

I'd love to know how these guys keep it going. Most of us think that growing old means waving goodbye to the active life. These warriors show that there is another way. Just writing about them makes me feel younger already.

Sunday Independent

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