I recently met Alexis Grewal, 1984 Olympic cycling gold medalist. He wrote this article as the forward for my book Dream It, Lice It, Love It:Beyond Well, Beyond 50. I thought you would enjoy the insights of an Olympian as he makes a comeback in competitive cycling at age 50.
“In ages past athletics prepared us for war and also often served as a substitute for war. Athletics were an intrinsic part of national life as long ago as the birth of Christ—so much so that a man named Paul used the athletic games of his time as the predominant analogy of spiritual life in his letters to the fledgling spiritual community that later would be called and known as the Christian Church.
There is something inherent to the human spirit about pursuing athletic form. In our modern day life it is often expressed in the most eloquent moments and images of our time. Who can forget Muhammad Ali, or Olga Korbut? Very little reveals the strength and weakness of men as well as the edge that athletics brings us to. That is why we walk it.
I, too, have walked on the liminal edge of that blade and it cuts both ways. Now at fifty I am walking on it again. Few other things provide the arena that competition in athletics does, and as much as I find it frightening, I like it. For me little has changed in my body since my leaving competitive sports seventeen years ago. I have been fortunate to have work and life circumstances that have always required physical exertion.
But as our culture moves further and further into the electronic age, athletics—both its practice and the lessons learned from it—are more and more needed to balance our lives and our children’s lives. And while it is unfortunate that the sporting world is oftentimes filled with overpaid, spoiled crybabies, it still remains one the best places for our youth to learn life’s hardest lessons. Perhaps it is with those of us who remain healthy and fit that an example to the youth of today lies.
For those of us over fifty and still athletes, the same things that have always drawn the young and restless to sport still draw us to it today: the love of the game and the knowledge that the pain is, in itself, gain. None of us particularly love that part of it, but we do enjoy the benefits.
Perhaps you will find a reason to pursue athletics from the interviews in this book. More likely, you will find a reason as you go out and “just do it.” After all, the word Nike comes from a word used in the ancient Greek Olympic Games to denote he who is the winner. “Just do it” expresses it in a visceral way, because the act itself is a victory, and that is what the Greek word nikeo means. Participation in athletics as we grow older helps to make winners of us all. And on a good day experience can still trump youth. Athletes in cycling such as Jeanne Longo and Ned Overend, both over fifty, have proven so. That Jeanne placed fifth at the World Championship Time Trial and Ned placed second at the Elite National Hill Climb Championship against the best youth had to offer tells us that the limits of the human body are as yet unknown.”