Australian Masters Games

Masters of their own destiny

16 September 2013

Masters of their own destiny

Thursday 4th July 2013: Kim Collins a 37 year old sprinter from Saint Kitts and Nevis breaks the 10 second barrier in the 100m sprint. To run the 100m in less than 10 seconds requires extraordinary strength and power, and while this Caribbean sprinter may be a professional athlete, to achieve this feat at his age is nothing short of astonishing.

According to conventional wisdom, as we age our muscle mass will decline at an alarming rate, particularly our power producing fast-twitch fibres. Our chances of succumbing to chronic disease significantly increase and we will lose confidence in our ability to do the things we enjoy, if we choose not to resist.

But not so for an ever increasing number of mature-aged Australians. Officially known as Masters athletes, these not so ordinary people are taking control of their long term health through their participation in an organised sport. They are learning the skills and acquiring the knowledge that can help them turn back the clock without expensive medical intervention. They are becoming masters of their own destiny.

Amazing feats of physical prowess and mental toughness are being played out across courts, fields, gyms, tracks, pools, beaches and ovals every night of the week and every weekend. In all corners of our country, the human spirit burns bright within a demographic that is all too often crushed under the weight of life and its responsibilities and the uncertainty that comes with a gradual decline in health.

“Masters sport” is a generic term that includes masters, veterans, golden oldies, myths, legends, older adult sport, seniors and mature age sport. Participants in those sports are collectively known as “Masters athletes”. Inclusion has nothing to do with ability – it is entirely based on minimum age qualification (for most sports this is 30 years but can differ from sport to sport). There is no maximum age limit. The level of participation is dependent only on your enthusiasm, but be warned, a lot of Masters athletes eventually become bitten by the bug.

By 2021, 50% of Australians will be aged over 35 years. 2013 sees both the Australian Masters Games in Geelong, Victoria and the World Masters Games in Torino Italy. Torino accepted 15,000 registrations for their games from every corner of the globe. Geelong will cater for nearly 8,000 competitors and will feature over 50 different sports.

But how does being a Masters athlete help you control your own destiny? How can participation in sport as you get older be such a powerful health strategy?

The answer is actually quite simple. When you participate in an organised sport, either as an individual or as part of a team, you reap significant benefits in three well recognised dimensions of health; mental, physical and social – the components of so called successful aging.

Feeling vital and full of energy, having social relationships that are meaningful and that share a common interest, feeling a sense of control and purpose, having the capability to do the things we want to do in life and even having a sense of connection to the community and the environment. Sport can give you all this irrespective of your age, gender, fitness level or abilities. It might not be the only way to achieve these things but it sure is a fun way.

While these benefits might be available to anyone hiking through a National Park with their friends, it is the very concept of sport that can bring them to life for many others. Whether it’s the spirit of competition, the relentless pursuit of a new personal best or just turning up so that the team isn’t short, Masters athletes are to some extent driven, and it is this drive that influences their attitude to maintaining a sound body and mind.

I once asked a middle-aged male Masters sprinter why he travelled on some occasions for 3 hours to run in a race that was done and dusted in 12 seconds and then get back in the car and drive home again. His response was insightful. “Because when the starter says “take your marks”, you have never felt more alive in your life. You are full of adrenaline, your heart is racing, the hours of training are on the line and you know that the guys standing in the lanes next to you are feeling exactly the same way. You’re not thinking of some missed deadline or forgotten birthday, you are completely focussed and present in the moment. And when the race is run, it doesn’t really matter who won, the elation of having done something that very few men my age can do is something very special.”

People who exercise generally declare a better quality of life than those who do not. Studies abound that prove that Masters athletes experience better health indicators that their sedentary counterparts - and by a statistically significant margin.

So whether you are a first time participant in organised sport or if you are someone who played a high level of sport in years gone by and have always harboured the desire to have another crack at it, you have little to lose and lot to gain by giving a Masters sport a go.

Written by Geoff Carter who is a keen Masters Track and Field athlete and owner of Thrive Health - a boutique consulting company that designs 100% personalised exercise and nutrition plans for people of all ages. Geoff can be contacted at www.thrivehealth.com.au

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