The Collegian
Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Playing into the golden years

Senior Day, the ubiquitous rite of passage for athletes, evokes nostalgia and releases a flood of memories.

Though my last Senior Day was in high school, a few weeks ago during intramural basketball playoffs, I had extreme deja vu. I realized as I walked off the court that I may never play another basketball game. Yes, a bit dramatic I know, and perhaps a diva moment, but at the time it certainly felt like I was a part of VH1's Diva Tribute Concert.

I reckon many student athletes have this fear: One day, all of this will end, and I won't be able to play competitive, organized (insert respective sport here) again. What do I do now?

The men's basketball team celebrated its talented senior class last Sunday against Atlantic-10 foe St. Bonaventure. Richmond survived a late run by the Bonnies as the seniors, Kevin Anderson, Dan Geriot, Justin Harper and Kevin Smith led the team to victory. Fellow senior Kevin Hovde, an integral leader, was also honored at the game.

The women's basketball team also had a solid performance from senior guard Brittani Shells Saturday when she scored 21 points.

Perhaps I am feeling a bit nostalgic about being a senior. Or perhaps I have found an interesting correlation between senior student-athletes and "senior citizen" athletes.

Yes, the days as a nimble, agile and strong athlete may be numbered, but think of it as a challenge. There are many prominent athletes who have crossed the age line and excelled past the societal primetime of their career.

My first example is a bit stereotypical, but there is much truth in the example. Michael Jordan, "His Airness," is one of the greatest athletes of all time. Here is a player who retired not once (1993), but twice (1999). And then, surprise!, he came back for another encore with the Washington Wizards in 2001.

His list of awards and feats is extensive, but perhaps what is most impressive is this factoid: When Jordan played in his 14th and final NBA All-Star Game in 2003, he passed legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leading scorer in All-Star game history. And here is another nugget of Jordan (and old guys everywhere) glory: On Feb. 21, 2003, Jordan became the first 40-year-old to tally 43 points in an NBA game. I want to be like Mike when I'm 40.

The Olympics knows no age limit. Take American swimmer Dara Torres, for example. She has competed in five Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008), and, at age 41, she was the oldest swimmer to ever earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team for the 2008 games in Beijing. At those games, she competed in three events and won silver medals in all of them. She entered competitive swimming again on Feb. 19 at age 43 to qualify in the 50-meter freestyle for the 2012 London Olympics. And y'all thought the intramural swim meet was tough.

Successful golfers over 30 are about as common as a 14-year-old Justin Bieber fan: too many to name.

Tennis great Martina Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam women's doubles titles (an all-time record) and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. Her illustrious career spanned 31 years. She officially retired in 2006 at the age of 50. She will certainly hustle any country club ladies on the clay courts of retirement.

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One of baseball's greatest old guys is Cal Ripken Jr. He played all 21 years of his Major League career for the Baltimore Orioles. I bet Orioles fans would love to have him come out of retirement to revive the team. The "Ironman" perhaps is best known for breaking New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played -- Ripken surpassed the record of 2,131 games and extended the streak to 2,632 games.

I overreacted when I first thought I would never have the chance to play competitive sports again. A slight exaggeration, yes indeed. But as athletes get older, they have to adapt to new players and techniques.

Sometimes players have to alter their playing styles because nature has inhibited them somehow. Regardless, true athletes will continue to stay competitive as they reach their golden age.

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