By Margie M. Palmer
Many seniors recognize the value of maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle, but it’s safe to say that 77-year-old Andy Keech has set his bar a bit higher than most people in his age group.
Not only did the Uptown resident spend the past 12 months training to participate in the 35th annual World Indoor Rowing Championships, the novice indoor rower placed fourth in his age group.
Training to compete in the 2,000-meter CRASH-B sprints is no small feat, but Keech has never been one to back away from a challenge.
The native Australian has maintained a longstanding love affair with sports; when he was 19 he developed an interest in parachuting and went on to become one of the nation’s pioneer skydivers.
Throughout his 20-year career as a sport parachuter, he competed at a world competition in Germany where he was ranked the top scorer on his team. Later, Keech went onto become of the world’s top freefall photographers, racking up assignments with publications such as Sports Illustrated, Time magazine and The London Times.
After he retired from skydiving, he spent five years working alongside an airframe and power-plant mechanic to build a light, high-performance, safe aircraft, which he nicknamed Woodstock. In October 2003, Keech flew Woodstock across the U.S. and back, resetting three trans-continental speed records.
Keech describes himself as being a lifetime amateur.
“Throughout my life I’ve competed internationally in four completely different activities — parachuting, rifle shooting, as a world record setter pilot, and finally as an indoor rower; three of those were at world competition level,” he said.
Use it or lose it
At age 73, Keech traveled to Australia for his 68th kindergarten reunion; half of the anticipated attendees declined due to health reasons.
“Of the 15 who did attend, two of us were fit relative to all the others who were typically retired and sedentary ‘old people.’ The other fellow was a daily surf swimmer and I was a daily bike rider,” he said. “The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ certainly appeared to apply by the time we are in our early 70s.”
That trip inspired him to join CrossFit Hillcrest to see if he could stand the pace.
After six months, he became aware of a physical evaluator in Carlsbad who used a combined average score of a range of five characteristics that can determine one’s physical age. At the time of his first evaluation, despite being months away from his 74th birthday, his physical age was calculated at 41.
“I wondered if I had plateaued out or if further effort would change that number,” he said.
Six months later, he returned for a second evaluation. The result of the second test determined Keech had a physical age of 25.1 years.
Keech decided he was ready to take on a new challenge. When a fellow gym member suggested he train to represent CFHC at the 2016 indoor rowing competition in Boston, he bit.
Halfway into his training, he sought out seasoned rowing coach Pattie Pinkerton. Working with Pinkerton produced a performance spurt that was most heartening, he said.
“Those who persevere with the training, injuries and pain are the ones who finally step into the ring with the best in the world and those giants are always there to measure one’s self against. In my case there were eight who competed in the 75-79 age group and three were world champions,” he said. “Anyone can come last, but any position above that will be someone who is fitter than 99 percent of men or women in his or her age group.”
The 13 competitors who signed up in the 80-years-plus age category also served as a source of inspiration.
“[Those athletes] are beyond the average lifespan of the average American. The average person is dead by then, yet these are training and competing in a very painful and demanding activity at levels the average person doesn’t reach at any time in his life. They are not from the majority who retire ‘into slippered ease,’” he said. “It doesn’t come easy.”
CrossFit Hillcrest coach Crystal Canez notes that while Keech is certainly not your average senior, there are lots of things that older men and woman can do to maintain and improve their fitness.
“The best advice I can give is to keep moving,” she said. “Go on a walk with friends. Go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine. I’d also suggest checking out the bulletin boards in Whole Foods and Starbucks since they almost always have contact information for fantastic senior fitness resources.”
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.