In his last column, Lee Waldman looked at his return to racing. While his results were not up to expectations after getting a flat in the Crusher in the Tushar, his performance at the race showed that he had what it took to start a cyclocross season off well. Today he looks back on a lifetime of racing, and what it means to get to the start line at the age of 65.
by Lee Waldman
I’m 65 years old with two grandchildren and another on the way. Bottom line: I’ll never be as fast or as strong as I’d like to be, or as I was 10 years ago. No one is ever going to pay me to race my bike, nor should they. But you know what, I’ve learned that there’s a certain beauty in aging. That’s a pretty bold statement and many of you reading this are still young enough to not have noticed the signs of aging. So my advice to you is to copy it, put it in a safe place and come back to it at some future time. For the rest of you, keep reading. I’m sure that you’ve had the same experience that I’ve had as you grow older. Injuries take longer to heal. There are more aches and pains in the mornings. Yet that competitive fire is still burning.
When I was younger I felt like I simply had to race every chance I got. My goal was to become a strong Cat. 1 / 2 rider. Kind of unreachable considering I didn’t start racing my bike till I was 30. But, still, I was certain that if I just worked a little harder, trained a little longer, raced more often, I’d eventually make it. Well, time got in the way and I never really reached that goal. It bothered me for a time. Now that I’ve matured a bit I’ve begun to realize that the chances I have to simply ride my bike is a gift. Racing is just the icing on the cake and I don’t need to race every race every weekend. Like many other things in my life, I’ve begun to incorporate the “life is too short” philosophy. So I now give myself permission to race when and if it sounds like fun. Other days I’m content to just ride my bike.
As a younger rider I never had the experience that I’ve had in the last couple of years. It keeps me on the bike even on those rare days when I find it difficult to find the motivation to train. During cross season I race with men who are close to my age, at least they’re within a decade or two. However, during the summer “off season”, I end up riding endurance events where, even though I do race in my age category, we often start “en mass”. A variety of age groups start together. The separations come as the race develops. The only way to tell one age group from the next is by looking at the calf marking which often shows the rider’s age. More than once I’ve found myself coming up on a rider from a younger age group.
As I roll by, trying my best to look more relaxed than I feel, I often hear, “Damn, I hope I’m doing this when I’m your age!” If I’m ever searching for a reason to continue flogging myself, those 10 words do the trick every time. Whether I’m winning, or just surviving I can take solace in the fact that: 1) at least for that one moment in time I’m as fast as someone decades younger than I am, and more importantly, 2) I have, in some small way, become a role model for another person.
I think that the most powerful aspect of being an aging athlete is simply that sport, no matter what it is, makes us feel younger! Every morning, as I look at myself in the mirror I can see the indicators that I’m growing older, but I don’t feel older. I still find joy in simple things like watching the sun turn the clouds different shades of pink, orange and violet. And as morbid as it may sound to some of you, I’m thankful for the opportunity to experience it.
At the end of the day, sitting on the deck watching a similar scene in reverse I’m grateful that I’ve had another day. I’ve been able to find fulfillment in completing a long, arduous climb. I’ve loved the feeling of being drenched in sweat knowing that there are only a select number of people my age who are capable of doing what I’ve just done. Crossing the line at the finish of a hard cross race, no matter what place I’ve come in, I can, again celebrate the simple fact that I’ve just done something that most men my age can’t do. And I’ve done it with some style.
So, I am 65, and I’m a grandpa. Not such a bad place to be. I can still ride my bike. I can still toe the line and test myself. But I also know myself well enough to know that results don’t define me. I’m defined by the fact that I can do these things and I can do them well.