Facebook Twitter Linkedin Pinterest

The Immortals: Successful Athletes Over 60, Chapter Twelve

Posted on Nov. 10, 2003, 12:32 p.m. in Longevity |

Johnny Kelley finished his sixtieth Boston Marathon at age eighty-three. Ada Thomas started jogging after she retired at age sixty-five

Johnny Kelley finished his sixtieth Boston Marathon at age eighty-three. Ada Thomas started jogging after she retired at age sixty-five. At age sixty-eight, she ran her first marathon; at age sixty-nine,
she finished first in her age group in the women's division. At age seventy-two, she was still running five miles during the week and playing tennis on the weekends. Ivor Welch didn't start his athletic activity until he was eighty-three. Five years later, at age eighty-eight, he had run in five marathons. At age ninety, he ran in two half-marathons. In 1991, Ruth Rothfarb and Ida Mintz, both over age eighty, ran the Boston Marathon in a little over five hours.

Most of us may not match the athletic feats of these senior athletes - no matter what our age. The remarkable accomplishments of these athletes, however, are not just personal triumphs; they are also tributes to the amazing resilience of the human body. They demonstrate that whether you start your exercise program early or late in life, you can still enjoy the physical strength and vigor that most people attribute only to the young.

A Man Ahead of His Time: Jack La Lanne

Jack La Lanne is truly a testament to the virtues of lifelong exercise. Born September 26, 1914, La Lanne grew up as a sickly child. By age sixteen, he suffered from failing health: he was underweight, ridden with acne, and a sugarholic. After his mother took him to a seminar given by Dr. Paul Bragg, one of the founding fathers of the natural health movement, La Lanne was "reborn." After speaking with Dr. Bragg, La Lanne began his lifelong quest to promote good nutrition, diet, and proper exercise throughout his community and the

In 1931, La Lanne opened a spa in his home - actually, it was on his front lawn and in his basement - where he began working with local policemen and firemen in order to train them for physical tests. It was this spa, named "Jack La Lanne's," that started it all.

By 1936, La Lanne had opened the first commercial health club in Oakland, California. This was just the first of many firsts. La Lanne was the first to put weights in the hands of women. He was the first to invent sectionized weight machines. He was the first to put men and women together in the gym. He was the first to turn the gym into a comfortable, pleasant place where anyone could work out, opening the concept of a gym visit to the general public.

Even though La Lanne began his healthy lifestyle early in life, as the years have gone by, the rewards of physical fitness do not ever seem to leave him. In fact, the more La Lanne ages, the more amazing his athletic feats become:


  • At age sixty, La Lanne swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman's Wharf, with handcuffs on his wrists and shackles on his feet, while towing a thousand-pound boat. "Why did you do that?" people asked. La Lanne's response: "To give the prisoners hope."
  • In 1976, at age sixty-one, La Lanne wanted to do something special to commemorate the Spirit of ‘76 for the country's bicentennial celebration. He did this by swimming the length of Long Beach Harbor, approximately one mile, handcuffed and shackled, towing thirteen boats, one for each of the original colonies, containing the appropriate number of people - seventy-six. 
  • At age sixty-two, La Lanne swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge underwater, against treacherous tides. This time, he towed a 2,000-pound boat. 
  • By age sixty-five, La Lanne was swimming in Lake Ashinoko, Japan, hand-cuffed and shackled, towing sixty-five boats, which, coincidentally, were loaded with 6,500 pounds of Louisiana wood pulp! 
  • Again, at age seventy, once again handcuffed and shackled, and fighting blustery winds and currents, La Lanne hit the water and succeeded in towing seventy boats and seventy people - one person on each boat - for an unbelievable one and one-half miles.

So how does a seventy-year-old tow seventy boats through rough waters? La Lanne's daily regimen consists of about 450 nutritional supplements, including liver and yeast, which, he believes, help him build strength. He eats natural foods in their natural states, being sure to avoid red meats, but includes fresh poultry, such as turkey. And of course, everything he eats is low in fat.

La Lanne does not live on diet alone, however. He trains two and a half hours daily, combining both weights and aerobics. In fact, when training for a swimming feat, La Lanne has been known to practice treading water against the weight of a harness in his pool for up to five hours at a time.

Today, at the ripe age of eighty-eight, La Lanne is currently training for yet another amazing athletic feat to take place within the next few years: a twenty- six-mile underwater swim - literally an underwater marathon - from Los Angeles to Catalina Island.

And with La Lanne's incredible track record, it looks as if his next feat will not be his last.