It took a protruding tree branch this summer to finally sideline Potato Richardson, the legendary 76-year-old endurance horse rider.
The impact with the branch occurred 2 miles from his 35-acre ranch in Greenwood, near Auburn, while he was training with Arabian horse La Princessa Tzia for the Tevis Cup, a grueling 100-mile one-day mountain race geared to elite riders. Richardson has competed in the race more than 20 times without getting injured, winning it three times, including in 2015 at age 73.
Princessa wasn’t hurt during the stumble, but the fall broke Richardson’s leg in three places, shelving competitions for the rest of the year. As a fitness advocate who worked out with icon Jack LaLanne in the 1960s, the mishap took Richardson away from riding for the first time in his career.
Sally Edwards, 73, founder of Fleet Feet stores and 16-time Ironman Finisher, advises seniors to keep moving, regularly use a wearable sensor device to track progress and other health issues, and to take on new physical challenges. “Try to do something new every year,” she says.
A riding coach for almost 50 years, Richardson says a tree branch isn’t enough to take him down. He says he’s plotting his return for 2020. “I’m already back working out,” he said in mid-October, citing his life-long regime of eating well, staying active and maintaining a positive attitude as contributing to a fast rebound. “I retired my crutches and walker and am getting back to the gym.”
That’s reassuring news for local seniors, who look to Richardson and others who keep active like him as an inspiration for their own athletic endeavors. In the Sacramento region, there are many outlets for competitive senior athletes, including track and field events, swimming and tennis programs, baseball and softball leagues, golf, triathlons, and the annual City of Sacramento Sports for Life Soccer Tournament.
“It’s really neat when you see someone 60, 70, 80 years old still have the fire in the gut and still want to be competitive,” says Rick Leonard, executive director of the Capital Athletic Club in downtown Sacramento. Leonard says that of the club’s 2,100 members, about 28 percent are 61 and older, and many of them over 80 continue to excel in all-age team and individual sports such as basketball, handball and racquetball. He says the oldest competitive athlete at the club is 85.
Sacramento’s Sally Edwards, 73, stays competitive despite having a knee replaced three years ago. Edwards is the founder of a half-dozen businesses, including Fleet Feet stores and Heart Zones USA, a fitness-technology and wearable-device company.
Edwards, who has published 24 books and written many articles on health and fit- ness, still plays weekly racquetball games while also taking up a new adventure — hiking the Mexico-to-Canada Pacific Crest Trail in 40-50 mile chunks most weekends.
“I’m about at the halfway point (of the 2,650-mile trail),” Edwards, a 16-time Ironman finisher and 1980 winner of the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run, said in October, after returning from an International Council on Active Aging convention in Florida. Edwards advises seniors to keep moving, regularly use a wearable sensor device to track progress and other health issues, and to take on new physical challenges.
“Try to do something new every year,” Edwards says.
Shawn Burger, an orthopedic therapist and consultant with Burger Rehabilitation Systems, says seniors need to keep active, maintain good balance and focus on prop- er warmups. He says that while he sees more older athletes than ever, they are generally more educated and motivated to learn new methods and technologies, but carry more body weight.
Sacramento’s Norman Blackwell, 86, claims staying active has added years to his life. Blackwell has been named to eight softball hall of fames, and he has been the manager of the Sacramento Gold for almost 30 years, when many players on the team were older than 60. The Gold currently plays as an 80-and-older travel tournament team, often getting in six games in a weekend, but most of the players also play in other leagues.
Blackwell is certain that even though he’s had health issues — surgeries for his knees and Achilles tendon, a B-12 deficiency, Type 2 diabetes — playing sports and being part of a team is a health benefit.
“The main thing is keeping busy, being around others your same age with the same likes,” says Blackwell, whose son Norman Blackwell Jr., 62, also plays for the Gold. Blackwell’s wife of 65 years, Mildred, known as Peaches, died two years ago, and he says it’s time to give up managing the Gold, but he will continue to play.
Meanwhile, Richardson, author of 2015’s “Ride Like Potato,” may be out of commission for the moment, but he hasn’t lost his drive. He says, “I’m definitely in the older range of most riders. There were 10 riders pursuing me all day (during the Tevis race), and not one of them was over 35!”