Heads tend to turn when Cathy Nicoletti toes the start line. Her snow-white hair is streaked with silver, and at 66, she looks like she could be your grandmother. And boy is she fast.
The Louisville, Colorado, resident is somewhat of a senior track-and-field star, who holds multiple national and world track championship titles. These days, she mostly races the 100- and 200-meter sprints.
At an age where many athletes have transitioned to gentler activities or quit athletics altogether, the intensely competitive Nicoletti doesn’t foresee retiring anytime soon. She’s among a handful of older athletes who still stay in top condition, competing and even beating younger athletes.
Marlin Smickley, 79, sees no reason to slow down either. The retired teacher lives in Edwards, where he runs, snowshoes, hikes, snowboards, cross-country skis and competes in trail running and snowshoeing races. Like Nicoletti, he didn’t race until after he retired in his 60s, but doesn’t see his age as a hindrance.
“I slowed down when I turned 75, and I had to change my intention and mindset,” he says. “Now when I am racing, I repeat my mantra: ‘My mind, body and spirit are in harmony, and I am relaxed and enjoying nature.’”
Still spry and running up to 20 miles weekly, Smickley has been lucky enough to stay injury-free. He credits that durability to good knees and maintaining his high school weight, in addition to a regimen of yoga, Pilates, core training and stretching. Still, most athletes aren’t so lucky.
Ellen Miller, 58, is the first American woman to summit the Everest Trilogy—29.029-foot Everest, 27,940-foot Lhotse and 25,791-foot Nuptse. No surprise, she’s a longtime mountaineering guide and outdoor coach. Miller’s also the owner of two artificial hips, so she’s also no stranger to sports injuries. In fact, she specializes in coaching older athletes, especially those returning from injuries.
Before her surgeries, Miller remembered thinking her athletic career was over. It was disappointing, but she was determined to adapt, thinking “Maybe I’ll be a wheelchair athlete.”
Miller encourages aging athletes to be kind to their bodies and look for other ways to be involved with their sports, even if they won’t be standing on the podium.
“I enjoy races much more now because I don’t feel like I have to go out there and hammer myself,” she says. “A lot of older athletes likely will never be on the very top again. Have humility and embrace it. There’s no need to quit your sport just because of your age.”
So what’s the secret to staying fit and active into your 60s and beyond? Miller, Smickley and Nicoletti all agree athletes should rest as intensely as they train, and above all, stay active.
“You’ve got to keep moving any way you possibly can,” says Nicoletti. “Find any motivation you can, and don’t let the naysayers defeat you.”