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The big 50
On his birthday, writer says it's not necessarily a turn for the worse
By Bruce Steinberg | Daily Herald Correspondent

Robert McKeague of Villa Park is an inspiration to at least one 50-year-old, not to mention many others of younger and older vintage, because of the athletic feats he achieved in his 80s.


Ed Lee | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/8/2008 12:18 AM

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The Ford Edsel came out the same year I did -- 1958. That was 50 years ago, and I hope I haven't been nearly the flop the car with the ox-yoke grille proved to be.

As a child in the 1960s I would joke with friends that in the year 2000 we would be 41 or 42 years old -- and how far away that would forever be. We could double our age and still be under 20 years old. Of course being as old as, let's say, 50, was simply too far away so as to never happen.

These days, my friends and I don't like to play the double-our-age game. It's too frightening.

For my 40th birthday, many people came up to console me that at least I wasn't turning 50. At 47, AARP started mailing notices to my house inviting me to join up.

Couldn't I at least have my last three years in my 40s? AARP made clear that there are no such ages as 47, 48, or 49. You are, in fact, the age called "Almost 50."

I realized since turning 47 that I regularly reached for AARP the Magazine (formerly known as Modern Maturity) and found that I do enjoy the articles on prostate and colon health. I give my doctor until I turn 50 to perfect the virtual colonoscopy; I'm serious, and my doctor knows it.

Jan. 8 is a birth date I share with David Bowie and Elvis Presley. Forever thereafter, turning 50 will be a thing gone by, just as my 20th high school reunion is 11 years in my past.

I made the mistake of looking for solace from my wife and son. My wife told me to get over it and my son likes to laugh about it, especially when he plays the double-your-age game.

However, several sports enthusiasts have provided the balm to soothe this aging body and soul. All I had to do was take a look at 2007's local race results -- not those in the record books, mind you, but the results of the regular men and women out there who prove the word "ageless" can be a state of body as well as mind.

Here's a summary of what I found.

Dave Walters of Lisle took second place overall out of 981 runners at the Cary 2007 March Madness half marathon with a time of 1 hour, 14 minutes, for an astounding 5-minute, 40-second average pace for 13.1 miles. Walters is 51.

At the heat-stroke-inducing 2007 Chicago Marathon, Christine Kennedy of Los Gatos, Calif., finished in 3 hours, 2 minutes, at age 53.

Sam Cortes of Naperville ran the 2007 Windrunners 10K in Lisle in 36 minutes, 57 seconds, and took third overall out of 288 runners. Cortes was 56 at the time and would have won all age groups, but for two whippersnappers in the 20-to-24 age division.

At the State Street Mile last August in Rockford, Susan Croll of Marengo dashed off a 6-minute, 18-second mile, taking fourth out of all 30 female runners. She was 60.

And not to be outdone at the same race was Henry Gallenz of Rockford, who ran a 7-minute, 9-second mile -- at age 70.

Finally there's Robert McKeague of Villa Park. McKeague finished the 29th annual Alpine Races Half Marathon in Lake Zurich last September in 2 hours and 7 minutes. McKeague, I forgot to tell you, is 82 years old.

McKeague has also been, for a long while, an age-group elite triathlete, and now is the first person age 80 or older to complete an Ironman triathlon.

"I don't think of myself age-wise," McKeague said in his youthful voice, "except when I have to look up my finishing results. I don't age myself. Rather I just go out there and do what I can do."

I pressed McKeague about his training and attitude, but he made it clear to me that his desires in sports were not an obsessive thing. Simply put, he'd rather be outdoors than indoors.

In fact, his most recent triathlon last November in Clearwater, Fla., would be his last, he said.

"I'm retired from triathlons now, and think I'll get a job at McDonald's or Wal-Mart. I have no plans to become the first 90-year-old to complete a full Ironman," he said.

But, he recalled with fondness, "My friends have no idea what it feels like to do a triathlon. I don't broadcast it, can't really explain the feeling, and you can't grasp what I feel unless you do it."

McKeague emphasizes that he'll always remain active, and plans to do some downhill skiing this winter.

Like all the other 80-year-olds hitting the slopes.

Consider these examples, and others out there too numerous to count. They are not the 20-year-olds touted in the sports media for winning gold medals or major sports contracts.

They are out there because that's the way things go for them -- people who are not defined by age.

As I was getting off the phone with McKeague, a good friend of mine, Van R. Richards, sat down beside me.

Van is somewhere in his mid-70s, has a brain the size of a planet, and runs and bikes almost every day of the week. His pace, though, is far from stellar. But he moves in his daily life much like a young man.

Van saw my notes, asked me what I'm doing, and responded, "I'm not fast, but I'm out there. That's what matters."

Turning 50 doesn't bug me so much anymore. All it represents is the number of times I've been around the sun. Like everybody else listed in this story, I want to keep going and be out there.

Now, about that virtual colonoscopy thing ...