The youngest at this athletics event is 35, the oldest 100: Stan Perkins

It is quite a sight to see agile octogenarians chew up the track at an athletics event, blowing away stereotyping. Forget sipping tea and nodding off in a rocking chair, these elders lead a healthier lifestyle than many 20-somethings.

Stan Perkins, president of the World Masters Athletics, spoke to The Hindu , during the 34th National Masters Athletic Championships. Better health, increased self-confidence and an improved social network are just some of the benefits of this competition, he says.

The Masters Athletic Championship is split into events that consist of competitors in various age groups, starting from 35 years. The “five-year age groups”, which begin with 35 to 40 category, could extend all the way up to 95 to 100 years category.

Excerpts from an interview:

Tell us about the origins of Masters Athletics.

Masters Athletics started in late 1970s. It grew out of the desire of old athletes to continue to participate in competitions but nothing was available for them at the time. So they started having regional competitions, and it soon spread from one country to another. After the 1972 Munich Olympics, an International Masters meet was held in London. That was the start of the movement, and it has grown by leaps and bounds. Masters events are now present in 160 countries.

It is nice to see older sportsmen get that competitive edge back.

Of course. A lot of our Masters have played organised sport in school and college. Then they have had to look after their families, employment etc. That was a period when they did not have the time to play sports. The Masters gives them a way back in when their careers and families are established.

There are a lot of health benefits as well…

Gosh, yes. You only have to look around here to see how healthy and vibrant these people are. Quite often, you look at a person and you think she is around 50, but she is actually 70. Our Masters are easing the burden on government healthcare spending across the world. That’s one of the best things about our sport.

The percentage of senior citizens has increased quite a lot in recent years…

Yes, it has. Worldwide, we face an ever-aging population. When their career is over, only half of their lifetime is done. The Masters — and the socialising that comes with it, meeting other like-minded people — gives them new focus in life. This brings huge benefits to our society.

There is an increased self-confidence that comes with competing in events like this as well.

They have a renewed social life; people who have never met before are now suddenly like family. One of the problems with our societies is that as people become older, they lose their friends and become isolated. Masters is an escape from the loneliness. When people of similar ages and intent meet, it works marvellously well.