For those old enough to remember 1976, our nation was celebrating its bicentennial anniversary complete with specially minted coins, The American Freedom Train touring the nation, Apollo Creed’s boxing shorts and the nationally televised 4th of July fireworks show in Washington DC. For an 11-year old, it was a very awe inspiring year. So much so, that it was at that time that I decided I wanted to live to be 111 in order to see the tri-centennial celebration!
Yes, 111 years would be quite a feat. While the population of centenarians in the U.S. has grown 44% from 2000 to 2014, the odds of making it past 110 years of age are long indeed. Approximately 1 in every 1,000 centenarians make it to 110, or become super centenarians, as they are called.
In addition to just being alive, there is something to say about the quality of life, which is why I’m inspired by Stanislaw Kowalski, Hidekichi “Golden Bolt” Miyazaki, Julia “The Hurricane” Hawkins and Orville “The Running Man” Rogers. At age 105, Kowalski, currently 109, is said to be the oldest man to compete in a track & field event. He was 77 days older than Miyazaki, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 108 and set the world record in the 100 meters at the age of 105. Julia is currently 104 and just completed a successful track season competing in the 50 and 100 meter runs at the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, NM. She is the oldest women to compete on an American track. Orville Rogers is currently 101 and is the M100–104 age group record holder in no less than five different track events.
As a USA Track & Field Masters athlete myself, I now have an additional goal to live for. In addition to celebrating the tricentennial, why not set some Track & Field records along the way while competing in the 110–114 year old division? Afterall, there are no records past the 105 age group division and that division had to be created the year that Kowalski and Miyazaki reached the mark.
This then caused me to wonder if I was alone in my delusions of living and competing at an older age, or is it something that other people aspire to as well? This curiosity led me to asking family and friends the age at which they planned to live to. Their optimism was impressive in that this group of 24 people expected to live to the average age of 86.6, almost 8 full years beyond the current average age of 78.7. While this convenience sample* consisted of people with various attitudes toward health and fitness, it did not include any competitive athletes.
At this point, I turned to Facebook and posed this question to members of the USATF Masters Group. Not surprising this group, expected to live, on average, to 100.3 years young! Their optimism extends over 21 years past the average age for life expectancy. The average age of this group is currently 54.5 and statistically, they are well beyond half of their total life expectancy. However, they believe that there are almost as many years ahead of them as they have already lived.
Across both groups who provided a response, 22 of 57 people (38.6%) expect to live to 100 years of age or more! Not surprisingly, 20 of the 22 people with this expectation were Masters athletes. Of the total group, five people (8.8%) expect to be super centenarians with two people expecting to live to 120. The oldest verified person lived to 122 years and 164 days (because at this point, days do matter) and was female. So for the two male respondents who aspire to 120, they will have to live 3 years, 311 days longer than the oldest verified male has ever lived!
As the responses came in on Facebook, the optimistic prognostications were very apparent. One group member commented that his expectation was that he just needed to outlive the competition, but based on the responses, he needed to up his training. Not only is it a funny comment, but it rings of truth. In the 2017 Outdoor season, MastersRankings.com shows that for the M100–104 division, there were 6 different competitors, across 8 events, with 22 individual performances listed. The javelin throw was the most competitive with four different competitors ranked that season.
The 2020 World Masters Association (WMA) World Championships will be held in Toronto next year. While the site for the 2076 championships have not been determined, based on the life expectancy projections from the USATF Masters group, it’s shaping up to be very competitive in the M110–114 division. Fortunately, I have 57 years of training ahead of me before I get ready to toe the line!
* The respondents were a convenience sample and not intended to be a scientific sample or representative cross section of the population. Rather, it was an easy, fun way to gauge directional expectations regarding longevity.
“Fifteen there’s still time for you
Twenty two I feel her too
Thirty three you’re on your way
Every day’s a new day
Fifteen there’s still time for you
Time to buy and time to choose
Hey fifteen, there’s never a wish better than this
When you only got a hundred years to live”
Lyrics from song, “100 Years”
Artist: Five For Fighting