Age is Just a Number
Dec 03, 2009Posted by james

Athletes are competitive by nature especially during the prime of their career. However, many reach a point in where they either feel too old, or are told that they are too old for the game. They fall into a sedentary lifestyle as armchair athletes who only feel capable of cheering from the stands.

Mike Chanenchuk, 53 years old, was not one of those players. A former three time Lacrosse All American at the Naval Academy, he was sitting in the stands in July 2009 to watch his son play for the Whitmore Group team (a team that I sponsored) in the championship game of the 2009 Lacrosse Summer League. Only nine players showed up for the game, which wasn’t enough to field the team. Vincent Sombrotto, the player coach for the Whitmore team looked around for what to do. Sombrotto, a 4-time USA team player and national lacrosse hall of fame member who was 50 years old himself, went into the stands and asked Chanenchuk to dress for the game so that his son’s team wouldn’t have to forfeit.

So Sombrotto and Chanenchuk, both in their 50’s, were competing against college players in the prime of their careers. More amazingly, they stayed on the field for the entire game since the team had the minimum number of players and no substitutes were available. Thanks to their willingness to push beyond their limits, the team went on to win the game and the championship.

Interestingly, during the same month that Mike Chanenchuk saved the day for his son’s lacrosse team, 59-year-old Tom Watson tied for first place after 72 holes at the British Open Golf Championship at Turnberry. While he eventually lost in the playoffs, the accomplishment of getting this far was stunning for a 59 year old since the oldest winner of a major golf championship was a full 11 years younger. That player was Julius Boros who won the 1968 PGA championship.

Athletes considered past their “prime” can still play at an elite level if they don’t buy in to perceived limits. Limits are often imposed on players, or the team that they play for, based on generalities – not the specific player. Those that stay in the game and push beyond any limits often prove that there are still glory days ahead of them.

Many businesses fall into the same inertia as athletes. As they become mature businesses, they may buy in to the notion that they can’t be as nimble as smaller or younger competitors. They become stagnant, complacent and sometimes fat. But companies that ignore conventional wisdom, set high goals and continue to innovate may find that age is just a number.