Posted by: Admin | July 17, 2010

The SATURDAY INTERVIEW 3 – Neil

I was trying to find a likely candidate for an interview about playing sport over 50 when my husband, Neil, came crashing through the door at the end of an 8 mile run.  As he stood there, steam rising off him like a well-lathered horse, a huge, satisfied grin splashed across his face, I realised that this week’s interviewee had just arrived!

Neil has always been a sportsman. Fiercely competitive, over the years he’s played football, cricket and squash and run regularly, in and out of the gym.  He ran his first (and only – so far) marathon at 43, then completed the Three Peaks Challenge in 36 hours at 45, hiked to the summit of Kilimanjaro at 47 and ruptured his Achilles tendon on the squash court at 48. That put paid to squash, but a year later, he was hiking Kina Bulu in Borneo.

Now, at 52, he maintains a pretty strict regime of gym once or twice a week, cricket during the season on a Saturday (with net practice on a Tuesday) which he replaces with running in the winter. He took up skiing for the first time at the age of 50 and now goes once a year in January, which means extra training over Christmas.

Once he was showered and watered, I asked him what motivates him to continue playing.

“Fear.  My dad died suddenly at 38 from a massive coronary and my mother had already begun showing signs of Alzheimer’s at the age of 58, so I have a strong motivation for keeping my cholesterol and blood pressure down. Having said that, the main reason I do it is because it makes me feel good.”

Not in the mornings, I remind him, when the muscle soreness kicks in. He grimaces (after all, he’s used to my supportive remarks) “True, but then think how stiff my hips and knees would be if I didn’t exercise regularly?” he counters, with a knowingly raised eyebrow.

Moving swiftly on, I ask him about cricket. Since I normally avoid this subject at all costs (I could lose hours of my life that I’d never recover if I listened to a weekly blow-by-blow account of the match), this opens the floodgates. “The perception seems to be in some quarters that if you’re over 50 you’re too old, that you’re a liability in the field.  That’s why I never get considered for selection for the second team – the captain assumes that because of my age I’ll be a liability in the field.”

Would he like to tell the project50 community how he reacted to such blatant ageism? Neil grins.  Would he ever!

“I thought, I’ll show you!” He put in extra hours training in the gym and made it his mission to go out and score for the thirds. Whilst writing up this article, I emailed Neil at work and asked him to clarify the figures that normally go over my head. (If you’re not really interested in cricket, the gist is that he’s done very well – now skip to the paragraph after what follows!)

2007 – 13 matches, 299 runs, Highest score average: 70

2008 – 17 matches, 392 runs, Highest score average: 121

2009 – 14 matches, 301 runs, Highest score average: 64

2010 –   8 matches, 309 runs, Highest score average: 79 (Best in club so far this season)

Averages are worked out by dividing runs scored by the times you have been out. Mine is so high this season because I have been ‘Not Out’ four times this season. Which, for an opening bat, is top stuff, even if I say so myself (and I do!) I have six games left this season to achieve my pre-season target of 500

Neil feels that his basic fitness stands him in good stead and protects him, to some extent, against injury.  He admits, though, that he has to be realistic about what he can achieve. “As you get older, you’d be playing a losing game if you try to compete against younger men. My only competition is me – I set myself challenging targets each year.”

I suggest that, if anything, he’s more health conscious now than ever. “It’s been harder to keep in shape since I turned 50.  I have to watch what I eat more closely, but I don’t find that a chore.  I think I have a more mature attitude towards food. I love cooking fresh food, with dishes from raw ingredients” (This, I have to say, is very lucky for me!)

“Fitness is a choice. If you spend your life drinking beer and eating pies then your body won’t let you go on playing sport past 50” Any other advice for the 50-plus sportsman/woman?

“Accept that there are some sports you can’t compete in any more, such as football. Accept that recovery will take longer, that’ll it’ll hurt more in the morning. You need to stretch more, but no amount of stretching will make it painless – the payoff is that sense of accomplishment.”

Presumably, then, there’ll come a time when he won’t be able to compete at cricket any more?  I can see the question makes Neil feel uncomfortable, but he answers manfully. “In a way, I’m afraid to stop, but I will when my reactions to the ball are too slow. I just hope that I recognise it.”  What then? “I’ve always needed to challenge myself physically,” he says, “and I can’t see that ever changing. I’ll probably move on to golf.”

I have a feeling that’s some way off yet, especially as a brand new bat was purchased this season. But when it does happen, the world of golf had better watch out!





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Responses

  1. Having seen my own father suffer from his first major stroke at the age of 45 I can totally understand Neil’s drive to stay fit. I to get a huge buzz from the feeling after completing a challenging hour or so in the gym. Yes the body does take longer to recover but it is definitely worth it! As the saying goes ‘no pain no gain’! I too have recently taken up some new sports challenges in the form of skiing and last Summer dingy sailing (definitely worth considering it is not all gin and tonics on deck!) I think it’s more about keeping sharp and being ready for change something as we get older can be a very scary thought. Well done Neil keep at it, if nothing else it keeps you out of Jo’s hair ..whilst she has some left : ))))))

    • Thanks for commenting, Jane. We never forget our parents’ trials, do we? And in your’s and Neil’s case, it really is a case of allowing their experiences to spur you on to greater endeavours. Good luck with your fitness programme! Jo


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