I’m Not OLD, I’m a Mature Athlete

After reviewing the x-ray of my shoulder which I had hurt on the ski hill a few weeks earlier, my doctor said to me in his office “there’s nothing structurally wrong with it, just a little bursitis. You’re just getting old”. I was 54 at the time and my first thought was: “Screw you! I refuse to accept that I cannot continue to lead an active lifestyle”. Hell, except for a nagging pain in the shoulder that wouldn’t go away, I still skied and water-skied and felt like I did 10 years earlier. I was not going to sit on the couch and become a spectator and wither away. That doctor’s words resonated with me and motivated me. I refused to believe I was getting “old”, in fact, at that moment I banned the word from my vocabulary and proclaimed myself a “mature athlete”. I immediately embarked on a mission to rehab my shoulder and to get into the weight room to get strong and fit.

If you, too, were born between 1946 and 1962 (the Baby Boomers) you are part of America’s largest and most productive generation ever. Our generation has had the advantage of living during an age in which we have seen the greatest advances in science and medicine in the history of mankind. We will live longer than all previous generations. We say that 50 is the new 40 and 60 is the new 50.

Anti-aging is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the U.S. and around the world. In the U.S. alone the largest demographic segment of the population, the Baby Boomers, spent $115 billion in 2015 alone on anti-aging products and procedures including creams, hormone replacement therapy, dietary supplements, and TV fad exercise equipment and regimens. However, the mature athletes who inspire me are those who realize that youth is not found in a pill or topical application but by a lifestyle that includes healthy eating choices, not smoking, and regular exercise.

As a now 66 year old male still in pursuit of athletic achievement, I draw inspiration from stories of ‘past their prime’ men and women who have made the decision to not fade away but conversely stay young by pushing themselves into athletic endeavors and a healthy lifestyle. My goal is to inspire other “mature athletes” not only with my own story and endeavors but also by sharing the stories of others I personally know, frequently encounter, or learn about from my reading and travels. Therefore, I begin by sharing my story to some that may relate to or benefit from it.

Some may know that in my first career I was a college football coach and earned a Masters and Doctorate in Kinesiology. Others may know that after leaving the coaching profession I founded a real estate development company that over 25 years created two of America’s Best Master Planned Communities. Some of the readers today may know me as an accomplished powerlifter and co-owner of Kabuki Strength and Kabuki Strength Lab with business partner, Chris Duffin. Most readers likely don’t know me at all. However, since that doctor proclaimed me “Over the Hill” I have set 23 Masters World Records and 24 American Records in the sport of powerlifting.

It’s important to note that I have always strived to be the best I could be from a very early age. My father was old school and demanded that I be the best or “suffer the consequences”. He didn’t hand out compliments even when I accomplished impressive academic or athletic feats. Not once did he say “I’m proud of you”, which drove me to try to accomplish more and more in an effort to win his approval. In high school, I became Junior Class president, then Student Body president, national merit scholar and captain of the football team. After a successful college football career at UC Davis I embarked on a successful eight year run as a college football coach with several conference championships and a National Championship at Boise State. My professional career in the real estate development business led to award-winning projects and to me becoming a sought-after participant on the speaking circuit. So perhaps my dad had that intent in withholding his approval, but as a result, despite my accomplishments I have never quite felt satisfied with myself thinking that I had to go out and achieve the next attention-getting accomplishment.

When I started powerlifting at age 55, I didn’t start out to be the best in the World, however, I had a more modest goal of setting the OREGON state bench press record. However, at my first competition (18 months after my doctor’s life-altering comment) I set four California State records (apparently they didn’t know I was an Oregon resident) after which I really got the bug to excel. Eighteen months after that first meet, I met Chris at a meet I hosted in Lake Oswego and six months later we met again at a meet in which we both competed in Tri-Cities, WA. At that meet he invited me to train with him knowing that he could improve my technique and my numbers. Working together in Chris’ basement, backyard and garage we continued to refine my squat and bench technique and after 2-3 years even my sumo deadlift as well! Soon I was traveling around the country to compete and set master record after master record (625/465/562). Although knocking down records was rewarding the coolest outcome was the camaraderie I began to develop with men half or even one-third my age who shared the same passion of trying to be the best they could be. Three years after we had begun training together we got the notion of starting a “real gym” outside of that backyard garage with not just a little encouragement from Chris’ wife, Lisa, who wanted to take her house back from the 15-18 people who were clanging iron out back and using her downstairs restroom 4-5 days a week.

What ensued was a most unlikely partnership between myself and a like-minded, hard-working executive engineer who was younger than my two of my five children. We opened Elite Performance Center (now Kabuki Strength Lab) in June of 2010 in an old 4,000 SF retail space in a seedy SE Portland neighborhood. Today that business is housed in a super cool 8,800 SF industrial space where hundreds of men and women of all ages come to train, learn and compete. In 2014 we launched Kabuki Strength to manufacture and market training equipment and techniques developed in the Lab to improve the quality and safety of the lifting and moving experience of athletes. This fledgling business will generate over a million dollars in revenue in its first full year of existence and therefore has afforded us both the opportunity to create new careers doing what we love to do!

Today I find satisfaction in helping grow Kabuki Strength, coaching athletes in The Lab and around the country in our Kabuki Movement System seminars as well as training with other mature athletes, specifically, my training partner, John Hare, who is now 55 and is one of the best Master lifters ever in the sport. So if you are a Baby Boomer who is at the cross roads of sink or swim, get off the couch and put your toe in the water! It is never too late to begin living a healthy lifestyle. Who knows what you may achieve if you find a little inspiration!

In future posts and interviews, I plan to share the stories of mature athletes from the strength sports and other team and individual sports on our Kabuki Strength website in hopes of inspiring other Boomers to find their athletic calling.

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve”!… Napolean Hill