Forever young: vigorous older generation lead by example

A quick scan of Yuichiro Miura’s eight decades reveals him to be one of those souls


‘Old age is not a battle. It’s a f***ing massacre,” declares Philip Roth’s unnamed narrator at one stage of Everyman . Perhaps so, but it was interesting to see two examples of the world’s senior generation fighting back this week.

In the past few days, pictures have begun to emerge of Hollywood funny man Zach Galifiankis stepping out at a premiere with an older woman on his arm, who has since been identified as 87-year-old Mimi Haist. And the global mountaineering fraternity has been absorbing the news that among the latest climber to scale Mount Everest is Yuichiro Miura, an 80-year-old adventurer and all-round cooler from Japan.

Yes, the feat of climbing Everest has lost much of its magnificence at this stage and there is a hardening veracity in the argument that it has been reduced to perhaps the world’s most expensive carnival ride: a fifty-grand thrill seekers excursion where the dangers are greatly reduced by the skilled sherpas and advancement in breathing technology, clothing and satellite communications.

More than 4,000 people have made it to the summit of the Nepalese mountain while some 240 have died in the attempt, usually because of unexpected and severe turns in the weather. Most of those remain on Everest. And there is something wrong about annual May expeditions past the frozen corpses – some of those famous climbers like Rob Hall or George Mallory – who are destined to lie where they froze to death. The lure of this climb will always prove irresistible for those who can’t find enough excitement at sea level.

A quick scan of Yuichiro Miura’s eight decades reveals him to be one of those souls. For years he dashed about the world scaling this peak or skiing down that slope. His family waited anxiously for the phone call he was due to make from the summit. Because scaling the mountain has become relatively commonplace, the only way to stand apart from the crowd is to be different.

Trendy silver hairstyle
The Japanese man did just that. He was euphoric and while he claimed to be as tired as he had ever been, he didn’t look it. Nope, sporting wraparound shades and a trendy silver hairstyle, the bet here is that if Muira was flown straight from Nepal and escorted to an all-night Ibizan rave, he would easily put in a good five or six hours on the dance floor.

His achievement must make young mountaineers and adventurers question the point of wanting to climb Everest. If an 80-year-old, however physically fit, is capable of ascending the cliffs, it might well reduce the scale of the challenge in the minds of the 20 and 30-somethings intent on being there.

But Muira’s climb must be greatly heartening to the world’s senior generation. You can imagine them jumping from the sofas – with clicking bones, yes, and groans and distressed tickers – to let out a collective whoop asserting that the 1930s generation are not quite licked.

More and more, the older generation is kept out of sight. It just doesn’t do to be old in a global society which has placed a genuinely insane premium on being youthful and on preserving it – or else getting out of the game. Politics and certain sectors of the arts grant practitioners longer life spans, but sport has always been a particularly hard station. After a certain age most actresses drop off the radar or are held up to scrutiny against images of their younger selves.

Sport, too, is cruel in its treatment of aging. In most sports, anyone over 30 is considered to be drifting towards inevitable decline. The sight of Stanley Matthews, 50 when he made his last first-team appearance for Stoke, is almost certain not to be repeated. Exceptions are to be found: Jason Kidd just recently completed a 19th season in the NBA at the age of 40; Martina Navratilova played elite tennis until 49; and John Whittemore famously completed his last event at 104 in 2004.

But sport is no country for old men. Even in golf, which was for years the last refuge of the fat sportsman, is getting tougher on its senior class. While the sight of Arnold Palmer and the other golden oldies teeing off at the Masters always earns the murmured approval of Peter Allis, you can see slight anxiety in the faces of spectators near the ropes as they consider the consequences if one of the old guys loses a grip on his club as he winds up or hits his tee shot very hard, very crooked and very low.

The younger generation
Sometimes they flinch a little and you can hear a certain relief in their applause. And then the old guys leave and attention turns to the younger generation.

The concentration on youth has become a global pattern in sport. Look at the GAA. It is becoming increasingly rare to see anyone over 35 holding down a first team place on an elite hurling or football team. Players like Tony Browne and Anthony Rainbow have shown the trend for youth to be nonsense.

But youth is prized like it never was before. Christy Ring played championship hurling into his 40s. Maurice Fitzgerald was still putting in outstanding shows in the Kerry theatre at the age of 40. Can it be the case that there isn’t one player in the 40-plus category capable of still playing championship football?

There are a thousand variations on the stereotype that the oldsters are doddery and can’t be trusted with technology and need help. Now, the next time they are condescended to, they can point to Muira and say they are still okay to park the car, thanks.

Haist’s achievement was different but just as rare. It turns out she had known Galifiankis since his early days. Now that he is an A list star, he looks out for her. It is hardly a surprise that her appearance as his guest at Hangover III was not picked up. The paparazzi do not file photographs of unknown old people because consumers of pop gossip do not want to be confronted with the spectre of aging.

Muira gave two fingers to all of that this week. As it turns out, his ownership of the record may be short lived: Min Bahudur Sherchan, an 81-year-old Nepalese man who shares Muira’s obsession with mountaineering, is limbering up for his assault on the summit next week.

Cats like those would make ya feel young.

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