Why you will want to read this interview:
You are a very fit, athletic mid-lifer and wondering how long you will be able to push yourself physically.
You are a less fit, possibly less healthy mid-lifer and wondering if you are still physically capable of being active and fit.
Because… you need to be inspired by this 100 year old woman who can still run 400 meters.
Typical track meet: the athletes complete their warmup, trying to ignore the crowds, their fans, and sometimes their coach. They each go through their personal pre-race routine, then become hyper focused, waiting for the sound of the starting pistol.
The gun fires, the sprint begins, all eyes on the finish line 100 meters ahead. The athletes surge and hit their stride….but wait….they’re how old?
Over the last few weeks, the news of athletes over the age of 100 have spread virally. I cannot speak for the thousands who read these astonishing reports and immediately hit “share” via social media posts, but I know how these stories make me feel personally. Admittedly, I’m projecting my fascination onto the masses, but to me, the lure of these aging athletes is really very simple: all of us mid-lifers want to believe that level of athleticism is in our future. We hope to remain as physically capable as our new centenarian heroes.
From my social media vantage point, it started with the 100-year-old powerlifting grandmother – Edith Murway-Traina (still hoping to hear from her daughter), then I saw reports of the 105 Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins, and finally I was copied on the amazing story of Diane “Flash” Friedman. (Thank you Allison Flatley!)
I have been reaching out to each of these athletes and/or their families and I was fortunate to finally connect with Diane Friedman’s coach – Exercise Physiologist, Dr. Bruce Sherman. If you already call the fitness industry your “career home”, you may be familiar with this name. If not, you certainly have bumped into his company’s product: the Gym Valet.
In addition to keeping our gym experience safer, and more hygienic, Bruce has been coaching and personal training for thirty years. He does not exclusively train senior athletes, but he does have tremendous experience – and success – with this demographic, including training and supporting 70+ year old men for the extremely difficult cycling event, the Race Across America.
Bruce was first introduced to Diane five years ago, when she was a spritely 95, primarily as a fitness trainer – not a coach. When training seniors, Bruce shared with me, one of the best skills to develop is just to be a friend. Be easy to speak with and be a great listener. Listening to Diane share her story, Bruce learned his new client was not new to track and field. Diane was competing successfully as a master’s athlete in her mid-70’s – running in the National Senior Games and the US Track and Field Association’s World Master’s Athletic Championships. But around the year 2000, Diane lost her husband and for the time being, lost her interest in competing.
Twenty years later, Diane was still able to live on her own, but she was lonely and needed daily conversation. Fate would soon bring together Coach Sherman with one of his most ideal athletes, the 95-year-old Diane Friedman. After 17 years of not running, Diane still had remarkable posture, did not use a cane or walking aid of any kind. In May of 2017, Bruce was ready to assess Diane’s current capability, so he simply challenged Diane to run down the hallway of her apartment building. Not only was she still able to run, she ran so well that Trainer Bruce Sherman soon became Coach Sherman. Personally, this piece of information alone astonished me: a 75 year old, that only occasionally visited the gym in her apartment building and kept herself active mainly though casual walking – was able to run after nearly twenty years later, at the age of 95. Remarkable.
Only one month later, it was time for Diane to re-enter the competitive world of master’s track and field. Her re-entry into competition has been incredibly successful. At 96, Diane reset her own world records for the 95-99 age group for the 100 and 200 meter distances. Two years later – at 98, she set the world record for the 400 meter, beating the previous record by over a minute.
QUESTION: do you remember the last time you ran 400 meters in a competition? If yes, you know this is not an easy achievement for any age, and simply incredible for someone in their 99th year.
In her centenarian year, she set new world records for both the 100 and 200 meter distances. Anyone reading these accomplishments have probably witnessed a few of their loved one’s as they aged, becoming less and less capable in those last years. Personally, my memories are still fresh. So you probably don’t require more evidence of Diane’s snail-paced physical decline to be amazed. Regardless, I have to share that Diane is also competing (and winning) in the javelin throw – thought she is not yet the American record holder. Finally, at the age of 99, Diane completed chair based 100 dips….in three minutes.
Bruce attributes part of Diane’s success to her full-body exercise routine, applied year round, then focusing on specific needs just 4-6 weeks prior to the track meet. His total body programming focuses on aerobic endurance, strength, balance and power. Incorporating variety such as lateral walking with weights, upper body dumbbell training, uphill walking on a treadmill, a 4lb med ball toss (for strength & balance) and she also uses the recumbent bike. Dr. Sherman takes his athlete’s conditioning very seriously and even at the century mark – her body still responds. (this is when the 50+ crowd should stand on their chairs and cheer)
If you google Diane “Flash” Friedman, you are bound to come across this 2021 video of Diane running in the Michigan Senior Olympics. If you turn up the volume, you will hear a voice yelling and cheering Diane as she runs. Bruce is repeatedly yelling the exact words his star athlete requested: “Faster Diane, faster!”
I’m adding my voice to Bruce’s cheer. No idea how long this 100-year-old phenom can keep competing, but I know there are thousands of mid-lifers around the country that each see a piece of themselves at this age. Like Diane, we don’t want to slow down. We don’t want to become less able. We don’t want a lesser quality of life as we age, we each hope to live fully into our final years.
So, for each of us looking into our own active futures, I’ll keep cheering: “Faster, Diane, Faster!”
Questions for Diane or Bruce?
Include any questions in the comment section below and I’ll forward their replies.