Not Your Typical “Athlete”January 24, 2022
How one senior athlete is redefining the term, one step at a time
Hugh “Mac” McCaffrey jokes that it takes a very generous definition of “athlete” to consider him one. The 78-year-old resident of The Forum at Deer Creek doesn’t play sports, isn’t on any teams and would much rather go for a walk than run. Yet, this May, he’ll be Ageility’s sponsored athlete at the National Senior Games, competing in two powerwalking events—the 1,500-meter sprint and 5K distance race. That’s because Mac has the most important thing one needs to be an athlete at any age: a passion for an active lifestyle.
“I don’t consider myself to be a sterling example of anything,” he says. “I enjoy what I do.”
The making of a senior athlete – the importance of passion over talent
The term “athlete” may at first bring to mind sports legends like Michael Jordan, Billie Jean King or Muhammad Ali. Speed, endurance, strength…all are pillars of what we consider the greatest athletes of all time. For many of us, though, it can feel like being an athlete is something unattainable and for the few lucky enough to have the talent and training. Long before his journey to becoming a senior athlete, Mac felt the same way looking up to the “athletes” in his high school. “I see these guys and I was never quite ever going to be on the same level as they were,” he says. “These guys were a step above, a step faster, reaction time was a millisecond faster.”
Over time, though, Mac realized that while these athletes had talent, they had the “same fears and hang ups we all have.” What was most important to being a senior athlete, or an athlete at any age, he learned, wasn’t whether you bested the competition; it was about finding an activity you enjoy and taking that first step. For Mac, it’s going for long walks several times a day, but it could be anything that gets you up and moving.
“I’m not really in any kind of shape to be doing anything,” he says. “I don’t enjoy running, but I do enjoy walking. I was encouraged to compete in the Senior Games, and I thought, why not? It sounds fun.”
Exercising for its own sake: senior fitness and wellness
Another key aspect of being an athlete at any age, but especially a senior athlete, is regular exercise. Mac says that looks a lot different now than when he was young. Back then, he says you got exercise by signing up to play a sport and going to practice, not by going on walks. The goal of exercise, he says, was to compete. It wasn’t until several decades later that his son and granddaughters taught him that exercise—and in turn being an athlete—didn’t require a coach. Anyone could do it.
“When I was a kid, you played outside and that was your activity,” he says. “Once you stopped doing competitive sports, you stopped exercising. But now all six of my grandchildren do some sort of physical activity. My oldest granddaughter has been working out since she was seven. Exercise now…it’s about keeping moving.”
Making “athlete” accessible for anyone
Mac is a competitive guy, but he says he’s not feeling the pressure to win gold against the top senior athletes from across the country. What’s most important, he says, is to have fun, make his community proud and show that the “athlete” umbrella is a lot bigger than you might think. Whether you prefer walking, water aerobics, pickleball or all the above, it’s dedication and a passion for movement that matters most. Who knows? Maybe next year, you’ll be a senior athlete competing at the Senior Games.
“If anybody has reservations about doing the senior games, I would say go for it,” says Mac. “What do you have to lose? If I do well, super. If I do badly, will I be embarrassed? Maybe a little bit. But at the end of the day, I don’t owe anybody any money and I have had an enjoyable experience.”
How to keep up with Mac and reach your senior fitness goals
The National Senior Games may still be several months off, but you can follow Mac’s journey and training routine every step of the way. To learn more about how Ageility Fitness can help you become an athlete at any age like Mac, visit ageility.com/fitness or find an Ageility location near you