Why do some athletes continue to excel at an age when many of us are slowing down? Is it hard work and determination or good luck and good genes? Most likely it’s a combination of all those factors and more. Here are three inspiring athletes who competed at a world-class level right into middle-age and beyond.
Elizabeth “Beezie” Madden, equestrian
Beezie Madden has been riding since the age of 3. As a child in Wisconsin, she also played softball and basketball, but Madden fell in love with horses—and with riding—early in life. She has excelled at the world’s most prestigious competitions for nearly three decades and is one of the most successful U.S. female equestrians of all time.
Now, at 52, Madden is again a member of the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team, scheduled to compete starting Sunday in both the individual and the team jumping events. The 2016 Olympic Games will be her fourth consecutive Olympic team. In addition to training and competing, she also runs a horse farm and training facility with her husband in Cazenovia, N.Y. According to her Facebook page, Madden’s advice for success as an equestrian is: "Always think about what's best for the horse. Have a passion for what you do and don't get lazy."
Butch Johnson, archer
Richard “Butch” Johnson of Connecticut competed in five consecutive Olympic Games, coming up just short of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics—at the age of 56. At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, he won gold as a member of the U.S. Olympic Team, leading his team over the top-ranked Korean shooters. Johnson also took home the bronze at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Johnson first took up archery at the age of 15. He won 46 national championships during his career as well as setting a number of world records in the sport. Determination and control under pressure have been the keys to his success and longevity in a sport known to demand precision. Johnson, who will turn 60 later this month, manages Hall’s Arrow—an indoor archery range and training center in Manchester, Conn. He continues to shoot and enjoys hunting and motorcycling.
Hiroshi Hoketsu, equestrian
Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu competed in his first Olympic Games in his home country—the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo—in show jumping. He competed in his last Olympic Games in 2012, at the age of 71. He was the oldest athlete at both the 2008 and 2012 games and placed 40th in individual dressage in 2012. This year Hoketsu withdrew his bid for the Japanese equestrian team before the Olympic trials, reportedly out of concern for his horse.
At 75 he would have been the oldest Olympic athlete ever. Oscar Swahn of Sweden, a shooter, competed in the 1920 Games when he was 72. Hoketsu, who retired in 2003 as chief executive officer of Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division in Germany, hasn’t made a decision about his future as an equestrian. He has said he will continue to ride as long as he continues to improve