California's Bill Bell shows us how he transformed himself from ordinary to extraordinary. Bill went from a typical golf-playing executive with some excess poundage and a borderline health problem in his early fifties to an age-group champion Ironman triathlete in his sixties and seventies. While you and I may not be looking for quite this drastic a change in our lifestyle, there's much for us to take away from Bill's fascinating journey. Here's a little of his story.
Bill never played any scholastic sports due to his father's insistence that he maintain a couple of paper routes during his high school years for financial reasons. As a young adult he was classified as 4F by the armed services due to heart irregularities. The turning point in his life came in 1974 when a stress test showed that the then 53-year-old had a slightly irregular heartbeat; this prompted his doctor to suggest that he take up jogging three days a week. Bill enjoyed the running so much that after a couple of weeks he asked the doctor if he could run every day. With his doctor's blessing, he gradually increased his running over the ensuing months until in short order, in 1975 to be precise, he was ready to tackle a 26.2-mile marathon. You could say he was off and running: running -- in one year -- a leg-wearying 14 marathons.
In 1980, Bill saw the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon on TV and came across an article about triathlons in Sports Illustrated which peaked his interest. In 1981, he had a chance encounter at an airport with an Ironman triathlete who encouraged him to try the sport. That's all he needed. Bill, now 59, signed up for swimming lessons at a local community college to prepare for the swimming portion of the triathlon. At first he could barely complete six lengths of the pool, but he stuck with it. By February of 1982 Bill was ready for his first Hawaiian Ironman (ALL 2.4 miles of swimming -- ALL 112 miles of biking -- ALL 26.2 miles of running) -- finishing in 15 hours, 57 minutes, 48 seconds. He was hooked. In his sixties and seventies Bill completed an impressive 32 Ironman races -- 17 of them being the extra-tough Hawaiian event.
All, however, was not clear sailing for Bill. He couldn't compete in the Hawaiian Ironman in 1989 and 1990 due to a fatigue-causing thyroid problem. After a year or so of looking, he finally found the solution in a very inexpensive thyroid medication. Then in 2001, at age 78, he became the oldest person to complete the Hawaiian Ironman; but right after the race, his heart rate wouldn't return to normal. He was subsequently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and had an ablation procedure done to temporarily eliminate the high heart rate and then in 2002, he had a pacemaker implanted. Bill has also recently had to deal with bone rubbing on bone in his right knee and a little exercise-induced asthma. None of this has stopped him.
Bill's last completed Ironman was in California at age 79. At age 81, he did attempt to be the first octogenarian to successfully tackle the Ironman in Hawaii, but, though he was on schedule to make the 17-hour cutoff, he was forced to abandon the effort due to recurring leg cramps and a flat tire during the cycling portion of the race.
Bill is now 87 and still competing in the shorter triathlons. Since June of this year, he has completed no less than seven sprint triathlons. In one of these races, the September 12 Malibu Nautica (500-meter swim -- 9-plus-mile bike ride -- 5K/3.1-mile run) -- his time of 3:03:39 beat 12 men and 32 women competitors; three of these men were in their 20s and two were 30-somethings and the women he outperformed were mostly in their 30s and 40s with the oldest being 61. AND, of course, by default he beat the great majority of much younger adults who are not in shape to complete a triathlon in any time.
In his 30-some years of racing Bill has:
- Completed 32 Ironman events and an equal number of Half-Ironman races
- Run 159 marathons and ultras (races longer than a marathon)
- Completed the Ultraman 3-Day Triathlon (a 6-mile swim -- 250-mile bike race -- 52.4-mile run) in 1983 and 1985 when he was in his sixties
- Biked across the USA as a member of the 4-man 70+ team (2,473 miles in 7 days 5 hours and 23 minutes)
- Swum in 1-mile, 3-mile and 10-mile open-water swimming races
- Done much more
- AND had the time of his life
Bill Bell has shown us how much more the human body, mind and spirit can accomplish than is generally assumed. It's not, however, about trying to match Bill stride for stride, accomplishment for accomplishment, but rather a wake-up call for us to not settle for the crumbs of life. Bill Bell shows us that while age may slow us, it doesn't have to stop us -- AND we can summon all the energy we need to enjoy life to the fullest no matter our age. Bill's advice to anyone willing to listen is simple: "Keep moving." No matter what obstacles life throws in your path, just keep moving. Bill did and it's made all the difference.
Ed Mayhew is a leading authority on slowing and reversing aging, who through his speaking engagements, books, CDs and newsletters, helps Boomers thrive! His age-redefining books include: Fitter After 50, Fitter for Life and AGE BLASTERS: 3 Steps to a Younger You Visit him at: www.YouCanGrowYounger.com www.FitterForLife.com AND Ask for your F*R*E*E** Fitter After 50 e-newsletter