Seems to me that retirement at 40 makes it the new 60. Jens Voigt, is retiring at age 43 after a successful 18 year career as a professional cyclist.
In a weekend Globe and Mail article, Oliver Moore profiled Voigt who has been a pro as long as I’ve been following cycling. Like his many fans, I would cheer Jens on when he headed out on long solo attacks, will him to stay away long enough to take the stage, curse the riders who overtook him at the line. It was exciting racing. I’ll miss him. And not just for his courage. Jens was a nice guy, thoughtful and generous. The real deal.
What disappoints me is that many masters, or as they refer to us in the article, aging, athletes seem to be so inspired by Voigt’s ability to ride through pain and suffering, to ignore his body.
I will admit to trying out Voigt’s famous catch phrase, “Shut up Legs” on certain climbs. And I know the difference between pain that will go away and pain that won’t. But having lived with pain that just wouldn’t go away (until they installed a new hip), I just can’t buy into Voigt’s assertion that pain kept him young. Pain doesn’t keep you young, it makes you feel old.
There is so much emphasis these days on epic endeavours. People who will literally hurt themselves to achieve a seemingly insurmountable goal are held up as inspiration and I wonder where it will all stop. When will it be just as admirable, just as inspiring, to be doing your sport just because you have done for decades, and intend to for many years more. Seems to me that if you are in it for the long haul, that is going to take some patience, and patience is sometimes a lot harder to come by than grit and determination.
I think more of us should aspire to be like Ed Whitlock, the 83 year old runner who runs so he can race and is still breaking world records. Scott Douglas’s 2010 article, Ed Whitlock and the Age of Simplicity is well worth a read. Go ahead, click on the link, you won’t be disappointed! But just in case you don’t, here is my favourite Whitlock advice.
“I do what not to do to an extreme.”
“Running should be a pastime,” he says. “All sports should be a pastime.”
“I don’t know how to motivate other people. I never know what to say to people who say, ‘You’re an inspiration.’ What do you say to that? I’m not an inspiring person at all.”
“Age-grading tables are a great motivator. My main interest in them is to see if I’m going downhill faster than the tables say I should or see if I can beat the tables.”
“All people are strange in different ways.”
Jens Voigt says that when he eventually goes back to riding his bike, “I’m going to do one hour, easy, in the sunshine, riding my bike to the next ice cream shop.” I don’t believe him, but it sounds like a plan.