“You have to work harder, but you can maintain a lot of muscle mass,” said Doll, citing a study in the 1990s in which nursing home residents who did quadriceps training almost tripled their strength.
Carol Mackela, 62, of Arlington was a competitive diver in college, but didn’t dive for 33 years until 2006, when she heard an old teammate from college had taken it up again. “Her dives looked better than in college,” she said.
Looking around in the local area, she at first had a hard time finding a coach who would take her on. One coach “didn’t have time for adults; he wanted to fill his slots with kids who are going to the Olympics.”
But Mackela, a retired government attorney, eventually found a coach. She now competes regularly and will participate Saturday in the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics, along with other divers in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Some things have changed since college. “Most of us are a little heavier, so in somersaulting dives, if you haven’t done it in 30 years, you have to find out where you are,” Mackela said.
Older adults also need to stretch more — and conquer fears that a younger person might not have. “You understand more as an adult what can happen if you do something wrong,” she said.
Bernhard Stamm, 74, of Ashburn learned that lesson three years ago, when he resumed doing field events after a 50-year hiatus and got so enthusiastic that he pulled his hamstring after failing to warm up properly.
“You’ve got to listen to your body,” said Stamm, a retired architect who was a track and field athlete in high school in Switzerland.
With 25 gold medals in senior competitions under his belt, Stamm plans to compete in the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics next week in the standing long jump, running long jump, high jump, javelin, shotput, and softball throw. He’ll even be adding some tricks he didn’t know in high school.
“The Fosbury Flop, where you jump over backwards,” he said, referring to a move popularized in the 1968 Summer Olympics. “That didn’t exist when I was a kid, so two years ago I learned it, and now I’m doing a Fosbury Flop.”
Nyad is a baby boomer — part of the generation born between 1946 and 1964 — and her feat may foreshadow a change in attitudes among a generation that has never liked to think of itself as old.
“She just didn’t give up, she was determined to do it,” Cooke said. “I’m thinking, ‘All right, I can’t let these little aches and pains hold me back; there’s things to do and I’m going to get out there and do them.’ ”