If you think you’re keeping in pretty good shape, take a look at these fine specimens. Not content with a stroll to the shops, these fitness gods and goddesses are posting times that will make you weep, and smashing records along the way.
Sister Madonna Buder
They call her the Iron Nun. Sister Buder has completed 45 Ironman Triathlons – that’s a 4km swim and 180km bike ride, with a marathon run (42km) thrown in – since she started competing at age 55. The Missouri-born wonder holds the record for the oldest
person to complete an Ironman, in 2012, at age 82. You could say she trains religiously – running to church every day, and to her local prison where she reads scripture to the inmates.
He looks like Sean Connery, if Sean Connery was super buff. Impressively ripped thanks to a fitness regime of his own invention that strikes fear into the hearts of mere mortal elite athletes – we’re talking 3000 reps of a circuit of 16 exercises – Don Wildman shows no signs of slowing down. This 83 year old Californian, nicknamed the Godfather of the Malibu Mob is an Ironman, marathoner, champion skier, cyclist, sailor and snowboarder.
It all started when she was 56 years old, standing in the changing rooms, not loving the way she looked in a pair of bathers. Who hasn’t been there?! Baltimore-born Ernestine’s response was to become a competitive bodybuilder (the Guinness-approved world’s oldest female). She’s not competing anymore, but this iron-pumping machine still has a training regime that makes most of us want to put our heads under the doona and go back to sleep. She’s up every day at 3am for a 20km walk, followed by a four-hour training session, and somehow finds time to run 130km a week, too.
Famous as ‘the man who skied down Everest’ in 1970 (with an Academy Award-winning documentary to prove it), this Japanese mountaineer cemented his place as an über- athlete by going on to become the oldest person to reach the summit of the world’s highest peak. Twice – once at age 70, and again at age 80, a record he still holds. And it’s a record he really wants to hold on to – he’s planning for another assault on Everest in 2022, when he’ll be 90.
Right up until his death earlier this year, English-born Canadian Ed Whitlock was still setting records as a marathoner. He was the first over-70 to run the marathon in less than three hours, and the first over-80 to run it in less than four. Just last year, he broke the world record, of 10 years’ standing, for the half-marathon for 85-year- olds – he blazed it in 1:50:47, a time that runners a quarter his age would be proud of. He ran in decades-old shoes and never had a coach or a special training regime – just his body, called a ‘medical marvel’ by researchers over the years.
These days, a yoga mat is the essential accessory for inner-city hipsters, and Instagram is filled with bendy ‘yogalebrities’. But back in the 1920s, when Tao Porchon-Lynch discovered it as an 8-year- old, yoga was little known in the West. Still an active yoga instructor at 98 (the world’s oldest, according to Guinness), Tao’s life has been impossibly glamorous and endlessly fascinating: born on a ship in the middle of the English Channel to a French father and Indian mother, she was a high-fashion model and Hollywood actress, a WWII French Resistance fighter, and has hundreds of awards for competitive tango dancing. Now, she’s the best possible advertisement for taking up yoga (and drinking wine).
OK, his time over 100m is 32-odd seconds above Usain’s, but Japan’s ‘Golden Bolt’ is no slouch. He took up running at age 90, to fill in the time he used to spend playing board games. The world’s oldest competitive sprinter, Hidekichi holds the record for the 100m dash for 105-year- olds (42.22 seconds). Masters competitions are graded by groups of five-year increments, and the way he’s going, it seems like we might see Hidekichi back on the track for the 110-year- old event. Catch him if you can!
Main photo: Harriette Thompson, at 92, became the oldest woman to finish a marathon, 2015