7 Older Athletes Crushing Their Sports, And Inspiring Us To Get Up And Exercise

"Age is just a number."

There's no age limit when it comes to sports, and there are older athletes who have set out to prove it.

You might think that there are special sports for senior athletes to take on later in life, but many choose to do regular activities people of any age can enjoy, whether it's joining a basketball team or even taking up bodybuilding.


Check out some of these inspiring older athletes below.

1. Mike Smith

It was only two weeks ago that Mike Smith made horse racing history.

The 52-year-old just became the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown — winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes — with his racehorse Justify. 

Smith has been riding since the 1990s and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003. At the time, he told NBC Sports he didn't feel like he belonged there. 

But things seemed to have changed. 

"I belong now," he said to NBC Sports shortly after his win at the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

As an older athlete training and taking part in horse racing, Smith is not slowing down yet. He's just getting started. 

2. Tom Alicandri

During last year's US Open ballperson tryouts, there was one aging athlete who also had the potential to make sports history.

His name was Tom Alicandri, a 72-year-old New Jersey resident known for being a radio personality. If chosen, Alicandri would've been the oldest ballperson in US Open's history.

At the time, Alicandri told NY1 he was going to make it because he knew "how to throw a ball," but the aging athlete's love for tennis went beyond just a basic skill. He once played tennis with legend Pancho Gonzales in Las Vegas.

"I love tennis and I love the US Open," Alicandri said to the US Open's news department at the tryout. "Great food, great shops and a great tournament. Just being here is fabulous."

Unfortunately, Alicandri wasn't chosen to be a ballperson during the US Open and died suddenly on April 1. But his story and determination still make him an inspiring older athlete for any aging athlete who might want to try their own hand at being a US Open ballperson someday. 

3. The San Diego Splash Women's Basketball Team

If you need senior athlete quotes to inspire you to go to the gym, then look no further than this short film from espnW about San Diego Splash, a women's basketball team comprised of inspiring older athletes over 80. 

San Diego Splash is just one of the teams housed under the San Diego Senior Women's Basketball Association, an organization that encourages women over 50 to play basketball. The team combines both sisterhood and sportsmanship for these aging athletes, and for some, it's the first time they've ever been able to be part of a basketball team.

"I was 78 years old when I got my first basketball shoes, so that was a thrill because I never played all my life," 91-year-old Grace Larsen said in the film. "I never had the chance to play. Growing up, we didn't have sports like the girls do today. We didn't have the opportunity to play — that was before Title IX. I thought, oh gee that would be so much fun if I could actually play basketball. As long as I can, I'm gonna play." 

4. Ruby Carter-Pikes

For older athletes training at the gym, Ruby Carter-Pikes is quite the inspiration. 

Carter-Pikes was the subject of a 60 Second Docs film from 2016 called "Grandma Bodybuilder," a quick glimpse into her bodybuilding career when she was 68. She plunged into the world of older athletes in 1999 when she was only 51. These days, she spends her time working out one or two times a day thanks to her devotion to fitness.

"I think that to change the way you look at any age — it's not so much the way you look, but the way you feel," Carter-Pikes said to A Plus. "I am what I am, I am what I do for my body. I look good on the outside, but I feel better on the inside." 

Carter-Pikes also talked about how she's an inspiring older athlete for other aging athletes who want to pursue bodybuilding and how she lives by the philosophy that "age is just a number," but wishes she could've started her career earlier in her life in order to make more of a difference in people's lives.

But at the end of the day, Carter-Pikes believes there are no rules when it comes to engaging in sports for older athletes.

"It's never too late — there's always a beginning, never an ending. Always do something you really enjoy in life."

5. Harvey Burgett

It wasn't until his 60s that Harvey Burgett could call himself a synchronized swimmer. But first, he needed to learn how to swim. 

Burgett's dive into becoming an older athlete began at a series of continuing education classes at Lehman College in the Bronx, New York, where his instructor, Dale Mohammed, taught him how to swim

Mohammed later persuaded Burgett to take part in synchronized swimming and from there, Burgett joined the Gotham Synchro swim club in New York City, where he joined an all-female group, and just two years later, became a gold medalist. Last August, the then 72-year-old also competed in the world championships.

"What I love about synchronized swimming is that there's not a care in the world when you're in the pool except being the best you can be," he said to The New York Post. "You can't worry about anything because you have to concentrate totally on holding your breath at the right time."

As an aging athlete, Burgett notes that it doesn't matter who you are because synchronized swimming is all about being in the water and doing your thing.

"It doesn't matter whether you're gay or straight," he said. "Synchronized swimming is not in itself a marker of a wink and a nod. It's just a hard sport, and beautiful, and I think people are willing to just look at individuals as individuals and not categorize them quite so much."

6. Hariette Thompson

Photo Credit: Jerod Harris | Rock 'n' Rock Marathon / Getty Images

Inspiring older athletes are presented to people in all sports and exercise regimens, and Harriette Thompson is no different. 

Last year, Thompson became the oldest woman to finish a half marathon at 94. Before that, the aging athlete broke another record when she became the oldest woman to run a marathon at 92. And here's the kicker: she didn't even start running marathons until she was 76.  

As an aging athlete, Thompson's message was all about persevering and staying upbeat. She's a two-time cancer survivor — battling jaw and skin cancer — who actively raised money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Thompson passed away last year at 94.

 "I try to be positive and have a good attitude," she said to Women's Running, "[and] try not to be negative at all."

7. Pino Auber

Like many older athletes here, Pino Auber didn't immediately get into his sport, only learning how to dive until later in his life when he was 57. Now, at nearly 80, age isn't slowing him down from diving.

Last year, Auber appeared in a video for Merck Consumer Health's We100, an initiative that promotes longer and healthier living, where he expresses his love for diving during a kids' training session after parents offered their different viewpoints about whether or not they'd try diving themselves.

"It gives me the strength to live, and true joy in my life," Auber said to the group of children after showing off his skills in the water and impressing their parents. "[Diving] makes me feel like a kid again."


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