Ever Upward and Onward: Training in the 10th Decade of Life


(Last week, we published the YouTube profile of Greysteel athlete John C. linked above. Here is a more detailed profile of this amazing man by our friend Andrea Bassett, who interviewed John in early 2017.)

In his 87th year, WW2 vet John C., decided it was time to prepare for old age. He’s from Nebraska and even with an adventurous life—marriage, 6 kids, foster children, basic training, multiple careers and a master’s degree—his normal mid-western upbringing meant he was practical, despite artistic leanings.

It was two years after John’s wife Mary passed away that he moved from his home in Oregon to Michigan to be near his daughters, Suzanne and Becky. Plan A was living with Suzanne and her husband but John gave it some more thought and knew it wasn’t the right solution. The right solution was an independent living community, 20 minutes down the road from Suzanne.

In John’s mind, the problem with old age is wrong thinking. But John’s a reader who exposes his mind to new ideas and started reading Deepak Chopra in his 80s. “Part of what he talks about,” John says, “is lack of purpose as people age, the need to go in different directions and people should be doing more to exert and sustain themselves. I got the idea that people could do things to fight off mental and physical weakness.”

John knew falls are a real problem for elders and the idea of living better by doing appropriate physical exercise immediately made sense to him. He got an iPhone, did a lot of research and learned about strength training. But there were no weights at his place and he asked one of the staff, Cassie, if there was something they could do to bring strength training into his independent living community.

Dinner with Local Doctor Gives John the Iron Bug

Cassie brought Dr. Jonathon Sullivan—a.k.a. Sully—an emergency physician, former Marine and barbell coach in Farmington for a tour of the retirement community and dinner with John. Before Sully left that night, he told John, “I can get you under the bar.” Those words started John’s career as a masters athlete at 89-years-old.

“I decided I couldn’t wait for something to come to my residence because it’s a significant change in thinking,” John says of his decision to start barbell training at Sully’s gym, Greysteel Strength and Conditioning.

To get started, John went through Sully’s standard interview and assessment and did his first deadlift of 25 pounds before the session was over. John has a couple of mobility issues and his barbell program is modified because of them. But he does the work—box squats, incline bench press, deadlifts, barbell curls, conditioning—just like any other masters athlete at Sully’s gym, Mondays and Fridays, rain or shine.

John’s in good health, always takes the stairs and you won’t hear him talking about his problems. Even so, after six months of barbell training, he’s got fewer of them.

Stronger, Firmer and Feeling Good

He feels good mentally and physically. John’s belly has ‘firmed up quite a bit’ and he feels stronger because he is stronger; in six months, he turned that 25-pound deadlift into a 130-pound deadlift.

“The program is fulfilling what I was hoping would happen,” John says. “I’m developing muscle mass, reducing the deleterious effects of aging and progressing instead of regressing.”