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Monday, June 18, 2012

As I get older, I feel more and more like a female athlete

"...if you’re going to split the men and women into two separate pools for each grade, and then congratulate the winners, shouldn't you also be congratulating the winning women?"

Lorraine: Commonwealth Games 1982
To his credit, the race organiser apologised profusely to this disgruntled female participant and put the record straight.  His oversight of the women was merely a habit of times past. But this recent exchange got me thinking.  Hence this article.

For the best part of 28 years I assisted my sister, Lorraine, with her never-ending battles against male chauvinism and age discrimination (ageism) in sport.   I can recall assisting Lorraine, around about 1980'ish with applying to the corruptly managed NZ Sports Foundation for a grant of less than $1,000 to help her with putting food on the table and covering her dental and medical bills (The Foundation's Founding  CEO, Keith Hancox, was later jailed for fraud in 1992 for embezzling the money meant for the athletes).  She was close to broke, despite being one of the best runners in the World.  It was degrading, in my opinion, and pained me to see my sister having to struggle for the basics.

When New Zealand women ruled Athletics.

The historic showdown between professionalism and amateurism in Olympic sports came to a head at the now infamous "Cascade Runoff" (1981) In retrospect it was hardly surprising that it was the three female winners, Kiwi runners, Anne Audain, Allison Roe and Lorraine Moller, who defiantly waved their paychecks in the air leading the movement to end “shamateurism” and ensure the right of all athletes to be self-determined. But while our women were at the forefront of a world-changing revolution where were our champion men? Cynics, like me, argued that they had no  great  motivation to change a system that catered to the established male stars. Under the table payments, expenses paid, and all the publicity suited them fine.  In the same vein as the Kiwi suffragettes of the late 1800’s these three women pulled off a system revamp and secured for all runners their right to earn a legitimate living.

Lorraine and Anne Christchurch
Commonwealth Games, 1974
But not before these three intrepid young women were crucified outside the arena gates as a grim warning to all other amateur athletes not to get any similar ideas of rebellion.  Athletics was chauvinistic back then and female athletes had to deal with the curse of being both female and headstrong.  Fortunately they were hastily reinstated in 1982 after the wrench that had been thrown into amateurism machinery was finally addressed by officialdom, conveniently just prior to the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. Anne won her 3000m gold medal, Lorraine her double bronzes in the 1500m and 3000m.  All continued to have stellar running careers with achievements that stamped the world with both athletic and social advancements. Had the tide not changed New Zealand would have been deprived of this great history of our women. Lorraine considers her stand at the Cascade Run-Off one of her proudest moments.

A decade later Lorraine won her bronze medal. She had no sponsors as her lone sportswear sponsor dumped her prior to the Games. At age 37 she was considered to be “over the hill”. The puzzling thing she noticed on her return was that no-one in New Zealand sports invited her to make comment or attempted to find out what she had done to pull off such a surprising performance. Surely, she thought, they would be clamouring with fine-tooth combs to analyse her physical and mental preparations that enabled her to defy all predictions? Surely they would want to use her experience for the up-and-coming athletes? But there was only silence. Nor was she ever approached for sponsorship: Forty’ish, Athletic, Female, even with an Olympic medal, were not the marketing buzzwords. (Bear in mind that even though she had earned the right to do so, over her career she consistently refused opportunities to be linked with products that she did not consider healthy for people. Maybe the word was out.)
Hiroshima 1986
"Okay so what's this got to do with you and the strange headline for this article Gary - have you got hormone problems or something?"

The answer is an emphatic "No!" But I have had cause lately to understand in some ways how these women must have felt.

Before I continue with what is buzzing about inside my head, let me say the following:  

I am not a publicity-seeker.  I do not need money (but a lottery win would be welcome). I do not need a bike sponsor (but that would be nice - if you have a better bike than the one I am currently riding). I am not in need of an Ego stroking (my partner, Alofa, does that for me). But I do want to share information and ideas about how to have a long and healthy life and, like Lorraine, Anne and Allison I strive to live by the courage of my convictions and set a good example by practicing what I preach, even if it is not a profitable marketing move.  So consider this:-
Lorraine winning Boston

Health statistics -  obesity, diabetes, inactivity, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, depression, dementia and so on and so on - are all heading in the wrong direction.  At the same time we have a Tsunami of Baby-Boomers now entering retirement.  If we do not do more to ensure good health of the population as a whole, the costs of maintaining our health systems, including ACC and aged care, will literally swamp our capacity to pay.  Health care and social support costs are blowing out right now.  

Things are getting out of control scary: Prescriptions for antidepressants have soared 300% over the last 20 years with 23% of middle-aged American women now on one or more of these drugs.  These drugs are now being marketed to infants. Adults and kids in civilised countries are becoming increasingly fat, sedentary and malnourished even in New Zealand due to poor lifestyle habits.This is not the future I want for my kids, or their kids.

The Future: More incapacitated retirees.  More preventable illness.  More harmful drugs.  More needless surgery.  More disability care.  Fewer able workers.

Now, what I am about to say is risking laying myself wide open to criticism that I am not much more than a disgruntled whinger.  But here I go....

Yes: I do feel like a female athlete - overlooked and undervalued

Lorraine: Unofficial
champion of the World.  Her
2nd of three wins.

I think we should be championing people who are leading the way in demonstrating healthy ageing by their doing the business and not just talking about it!

Here we are, three Brothers, each the random product of Mum and Dad, all over 50 years, competing in multisports as a team and dominating the 40+ age categories.  In the last five years we have only been beaten once in races in New Zealand and Australia. We are now officially the Australasian 40+  Team Champions (This article here gives a quick rundown about our exploits).  But do you think we ever get a mention in the sports magazines and websites?  

Of course we do get to stand on the podium and get a few kind words of mention here and there by the race directors on their event websites; but stuff-all really.  In five years not one article has been written about any of us; no forum offered for us to talk about healthy ageing and fitness, other than my personal Blog.

Bruce taking on the best.

The real interest by media and sponsors seems to be in rubbing up to the next up-and-coming young male gladiator while the old ones  quietly wander off to the elephant graveyard deep in the forest.  Why aren't the glossy sports magazines and the rest of the sports publicity machinery taking note of what we are doing and investigating how come three brothers in their 50's are managing to put together collective performances that no other vet teams have yet to match?  Am I missing something here?  Should we be wearing very tight lycra and sporting hair extensions in fluffy ponytails?

I cynically suspect that, if we had product sponsorships with the Big Brands that advertise big time in the sports magazines, then we would be splashed all over the pages in glossy photos and wordy copy.  But that will never happen.  Who would ever buy a magazine with three wrinklies with thinning scalps gracing the cover?  Sorry for any offence Brothers - I was just saying that to make a point - Actually, I think my brothers are ageing very well really with not all that many in the way of wrinkles.

I am grateful that we can afford to self-fund our exploits and have not had to chase  sponsorships.  At least we get to choose what shoes to wear, what ski to paddle and what bike to peddle (pedal?).  Thank goodness we do not have to wear some claustrophobic brand of compression tights, or guzzle sugary gels and then lie through our cavities about how great they are!

Moller Brothers: Exhausted but victorious
But I would appreciate it if there was more media interest in helping to get the message out to the increasingly sedentary and over-medicated masses that threaten to bankrupt this wonderful country:

"Hey! - Age is not that big a barrier to activity and health

- really - and here's how to do it"

But I am not going to hold my breath while I wait for this to happen.  Just like the idea that women in sport had nothing to contribute and therefore were not worthy of recognition, the Big Lie that aging and deteriorating health go hand in hand (and that a pile-up of medications is the salvation) is still perpetuated in this part of the World.  Meantime my brothers and I will continue to have a blast training and competing. (And don’t worry we won't bother to bore you with the mundane details of our daily lives on Facebook!).

But I will give Lorraine the last word. She has been through it all before and knows this territory well:- 

“You are right, Gary, the press unfortunately has increasingly become the slave of the market. This enslavement is a trap for the athlete too, many these days spending more time on their glossy websites with sponsor-schmoozing rhetoric than they do on their training or racing skills. 

You, my brothers, have no tangible product but health and enthusiasm. And let’s face it your social media skills are a little outdated and you are all too busy to bring them up to speed or remember my birthday. 

Personally I think that you are very marketable, but look at it this way - if the Aging Boomers all start working out and look after themselves like you do who is going to buy health in a packet or a pill? Frankly I would prefer to appreciate you with muddy shoes and your sweaty t-shirts than see you polished up on TV for a constipation ad! 

As you well know the beauty of getting older is coming to that point where you say ‘no!’ to the worship of the marketed persona at the expense of the authentic self and enjoy the performance as its own reward and freedom.”

About this website
The advice in these articles is given freely without promise or obligation.  Its all about giving you and your family the tools and information to take control of your health and fitness.

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