Amazing Feats Accomplished by Seniors
It’s often in our retirement, with the combination of free time and experience, that we accomplish the things we’re most proud of. Increasingly there’s little reason for seniors to feel that anything is necessarily off-limits, and these five incredible people prove that some of the most daunting and impressive feats remain within our grasp at every age, if only we’re willing to reach for them.
5. Gladys ‘Gladyator’ Burrill
Gladys ran her first marathon at the age of 86, in the Hawaiian heat of Honolulu. She was inspired by watching the fireworks at the start of the previous year’s marathon, and that inspiration would drive her to become one of the most indomitable runners in history.
After being an aircraft pilot, horseback rider, mountain climber and desert hiker, Gladys gained international recognition in 2011 when she completed the Honolulu marathon with a time of 9 hours and 53 minutes at the age of 92, becoming one of the oldest marathon runners in the world and an inspiration to millions.
4. Tamae Watanabe
A mountain climber since her late twenties, Watanabe became the sort of contender who would ultimately find true competition only in herself. After a lifetime of achievements including Denali, Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua, Tamae returned to her hometown following retirement, but wasn’t done with climbing.
In May 2002, Watanabe became the oldest women ever to summit Everest at the age of 63. This is a record she would hold for a stunning 10 years until it was finally broken… by Watanabe herself. In May 2012, almost exactly ten years after her first ascent, Tamae summited Everest for her second and final time, aged 73.
3. John Glenn
All-American hero John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. It wasn’t until he was in his seventies, however, that Glenn would return to the world of NASA and the effort to understand the universe beyond our little circle of firelight.
Identifying that some of the effects experienced by astronauts were similar to those experienced during ageing, Glenn proposed that NASA send an older individual into space. NASA administrator Dan Goldin agreed that Glenn could fly if he could pass the same demanding physical exam every other astronaut had to, and Glenn passed with flying colours, becoming the oldest person ever to go into space at the age of 77.
2. Ranulph Fiennes
Ran’s list of achievements is astounding: first person to visit both poles by surface means, the first to cross Antarctica on foot and, after summiting the famous mountain aged 65, simultaneously the first person to have climbed Everest and crossed both polar ice caps and the oldest Briton (at the time) to summit the mountain.
In 2003, however, aged 59 and just four months after a double heart bypass, Fiennes joined health expert Dr Mike Stroud to complete seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, running around 182 miles in one week through the sweltering Egyptian heat, the polluted atmosphere of New York and Singapore and the frigid cold of the Falklands (representing Antarctica).
1. Minoru Saito
All of the feats we’ve discussed are truly impressive, but the voyages of Minoru Saito appear to be in a league of their own.
Over the course of a nearly 40-year sailing career, Saito has completed the most prestigious sailing race in the world, the Velux 5 Oceans Race no fewer than three times. Saito’s career is so long, in fact, that this race has been renamed twice since he first competed. Even this incredible achievement pales compared with his 2005 non-stop solo circumnavigation, and this feat is in turn overshadowed by Saito’s greatest journey: the one he completed “the wrong way around.”
The prevailing winds and currents required for circumnavigation carry ships eastward. After seven solo circumnavigations, Saito decided, already in his mid-seventies, that travelling against these forces was a challenge he was ready to take on. Immense stresses on the vessel are complemented by the physical and psychological demands heaped upon the crew, and for a single-hander days can pass with little or no sleep.
Over the course of a gruelling 1,080-day journey which was frequently interrupted by sail and engine problems, Saito landed in Yokohama on the 17th of September, 2011, aged 77 years and 8 months. The records Saito set are unchallenged and almost seem unassailable. It’s possible, in fact, that his eight solo circumnavigations and his eastward journey represent two of the most unchallengeable records ever set, in any sport.