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Think you're too old to try a new sport? Don't tell that to Betty Goedhart, who started on the trapeze at age 78.
"I saw others doing it, and I thought, ‘If they can do it, there is no reason why I can't,'” Goedhart says. “I knew I might not have another chance.”
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It's tempting to slow down as you get older. But the latest studies show that staying active is perhaps the best way we know to defy the aging process and add years to one's life span.
As the older athletes we interviewed tell us, sometimes trying something new and different — or focusing on competing instead of just hitting the gym — pays off in years of motivation.
To inspire your next fitness feat, here are the stories of five competitors, ages 67 to 97, who started a new sport and never looked back.
The figure skater: Nancy Cox, 67
Nancy Cox never thought of herself as athletic. As a child, she didn't play organized sports, and she was always one of the last kids picked to be on a team.
Now, five decades later, she's in the best shape of her life.
The transformation began in 2011, when Cox and her husband were at their vacation home in Lake Placid, New York, and friends encouraged her to join them for a group ice skating lesson.
Cox, who was 60 at the time, had skated a bit on frozen ponds as a kid, and she took a semester-long figure skating class in college to meet a phys ed requirement.
Still, those first few steps on the ice were terrifying.
But the instructor helped Cox get comfortable, and it wasn't long before she was gliding around the rink, grinning.
"I just fell in love with it,” she says. “I thought, If I work at this, I can get better."
When Cox and her husband returned home to Baltimore, she pulled out her skates from college and headed to a nearby rink. “That first day, everybody laughed at my 1973 skates,” she says. “I realized that if I was going to do this at my age, I needed decent equipment."
After purchasing new blades, Cox signed up for weekly private lessons. On off days, she practiced during public open-skate sessions. Every summer, she attended an adult skating camp in Lake Placid.
Cox spent hours working on basic footwork, which she says is harder than it looks. “You're basically balancing on one blade at a time on the ice. It takes so many different muscles in your body.”
Before she started skating, Cox had been taking group fitness classes at the YMCA, but those felt like work. Skating felt like fun. And as her skills on the ice improved, her body started changing, too.
"I noticed my clothes getting too big,” she says. “Skating just whittled away my waist. I started tucking shirts in again.”
In December 2014, her blade caught on the ice and Cox went crashing down, breaking a bone in her shoulder. Her husband doubted whether she would be able to resume skating. But that February, as soon as doctors gave their OK, Cox was back out on the ice.
And her skills continued to improve. These days, Cox glides gracefully around the rink, arms extended. She has mastered crossovers, backwards skating and a basic two-foot spin.
The Lake Placid Skating Club recently honored Cox by naming her its adult skater of the year. And when Cox and her husband decided to move to Plymouth, Massachusetts, to be closer to their grandchildren, they made sure there was an ice rink nearby before they bought a home.
Cox sees the health benefits of skating paying years of dividends. Since she started, she has lost 18 pounds and dropped two sizes. Her legs and arms are more toned than they've ever been.
"It's really kind of amazing,” Cox says. “Most people my age are going the other way. This has turned out to be the best exercise I've ever done in my life — and I'm having fun.”
The runner: Roy Englert, 97
Roy Englert picked up running at age 60 after reading a book that said exercise was the key to health and longevity.
Thirty-seven years later, he's a living testament to that idea — running two to three days a week, mostly on a treadmill at a fitness center near his Springfield, Virginia, retirement community. In July, Englert ran a 42-minute 5K and set the world record for the 95-to-99 age group.
And he shows no signs of slowing down.