Older Athletes Earning Gold For Endurance In The Olympics

Dara Torres nearly made the U.S. Swim Team at age 45. Photo: Jul 2, 2012; Omaha, NE, USA; Dara Torres reacts after competing in the womens 50m freestyle final in the 2012 U.S. Olympic swimming team trials at the CenturyLink Center. Torres finished fourth in the event. Mandatory Credit: Matt Ryerson-US PRESSWIRE

Many Olympic athletes are competing in their 30s and 40s, others mentoring well into their golden years

In London, the LGBT head count is now 23, with the coming-out of South African archer Karen Ann Hultzer, 46. Her new visibility is all the more welcome for happening right in the hullabaloo of the Games. Hultzer had a simple statement to Outsports: "I am an archer, middle aged and a lesbian. I am also cranky before my first cup of coffee. None of these aspects define who I am, they are simply part of me."

Her comment about "middle aged" made me think. As I flipped through a slide show of our out athletes, I realized that the a large portion of them -- 13 out of 23 -- are over 30. Three of them -- Hultzer, and the two equestrians, Edward Gal and Carl Hester -- are over 40.

This is another welcome fact, amidst a global athletic event that is ever more driven by image and advertising, and evermore relentlessly about youth, with mid-teen swimmers and gymnasts getting the lion's share of attention and ogling. More and more, our out athletes join the contingent of those non-gays who are living testimonies to the extreme value of age -- of maturity, experience and the power to endure -- not only in sports, but in life itself. Age can be a gold medal in its own right.

Hultzer can even inspire older people who take up a sport after 40 and wonder if they can dream of being Olympians. Karen started in archery at age 41.

Indeed, our growing list of sports figures include gracefully aging troupers who made their marks years ago but are still out there making a difference. Like Greg Louganis, 52 -- activist, motivational speaker and now documentary film producer. Martina Navratilova, 56, another high-profile activist, dared to take on mountain climbing. And Diana Nyad, 63, still active in her sport, still spoiling to make that epic swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys.

The so-called "gay community" ought to embrace the example provided by our not-so-young sports heroes. It has its own festering problems with ageism, with obsessive focus on youth and beauty. Fortunately for Olympic athletes, they don't have to rely on their looks to get to the podium, or even get to the Games. However gorgeous their displayed bodies might grow because of intensive conditioning -- if they are swimmers or gymnasts or runners -- it's what they can DO with those bodies that counts.

Then there are those, like the fencers and archers and equestrians, who may or may not have a pretty face or gorgeous bods, but who deliver the goods while buttoned up to the chin in traditional gear, even gloves and helmets or top hats, with only their faces visible. Yet they have the power to light up the arena -- as Edward Gal did with Moorlands Totilas when the two of them blew the roof off their sport at the World Equestrian Games in 2010.

If our community can embrace its older athletes, perhaps it can eventually embrace the real values of aging for all of us, in a way that -- so far -- the LGBT world hasn't yet dared to do.

As a 76-year-old former plodder in the marathon, who could never have qualified for the Olympics, I salute Karen Ann Hultzer and the other mature achievers out there.

The Olympics motto should be modified to read CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS, LONGIUS -- faster, higher, stronger, and longer.

Find more about Patricia on her Web site. Copyright (c) 2012 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.

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