It’s no exaggeration to say that Rob Norris is a dedicated athlete. The 75-year-old Bailey resident took second place in his age group at the Irish Jig in March.
Less than six weeks after hip replacement surgery.
Both before and after surgery, hip pain barely caused a blip in Norris’ schedule.
Just three days before his January 24 operation, he ran a 5K in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. And a few weeks post-surgery, he did an indoor triathlon at Visser Family YMCA in Grandville.
A quick recovery
Training tips for seniors
Rob Norris has been running since high school, and he started doing triathlons around age 60. He enjoys the benefits of an active lifestyle every day.
“Staying fit physically also keeps you sharp mentally,” he said.
Norris offers these tips for others who want to stay competitive as they age:
1. Train, but don’t over train. Some of Norris’ peers used to run about 100 miles weekly. Today their joints are worn out and they’re not running at all. Norris prefers moderation. At his peak, he ran about 25-30 miles a week. Now he tries to run 3-5 miles a few days a week, often on a treadmill.
2. Strengthen―the right way. Lifting weights is only beneficial if you do it correctly. He suggests getting help from an expert. You may even look for proper lifting techniques on YouTube. (Be sure you’re watching a reliable source.)
3. Try old-school pain relief. Norris avoids pain pills, but that doesn’t mean he never has pain. Every day he uses an ice whirlpool to help heal his aching muscles. If his knee gives him problems, he wraps it in castor oil, which he calls an “old wives’ tale” cure.
4. Keep close records. Norris’ high school coach kept meticulous records, a habit that Norris continues today. He notes training details, aches and pains and even his diet. Going back to written records is invaluable, especially during “senior moments” of forgetfulness.
5. Watch your weight. Norris weighs in at 166, and he weighs himself daily to stay on track. He credits his quick recovery to being in shape and keeping his weight in check.
6. Eat smart (but not too smart). Norris eats a spinach salad every day and limits servings of beef to about 4 ounces. But that doesn’t prevent him from snagging an occasional Whopper Jr. or drinking cola after a race.
7. Consider supplements. Norris uses a daily supplement for joint flexibility and he takes beetroot before competitions to improve his performance. Of course, be sure to see your doctor before taking supplements of any kind to understand what’s safe for you.
8. Accept limitations. There’s a significant tail-off of capabilities after a certain age, and not everyone in their 70s can expect to compete. “If it’s not one thing it’s another,” he said.
The bottom line? Keep moving. Norris believes the worst thing you can do after retirement is spend the rest of your life sitting in a recliner.
“Just to stay active is the main thing.”
Despite his age, Norris was the ideal candidate for hip surgery thanks to his lifestyle and overall good health, Dr. Malvitz said. Norris, who also had surgery on the opposite hip nine years ago, flew through the 45-minute procedure with minimal discomfort.
Thanks to his good physical condition and lean physique, he was up on crutches within an hour of surgery.
But his low body mass also contributed to post-surgery chills.
“I just shivered, so they jacked the temperature of the room up to 89 degrees,” he recalled. “The nurses and all of the people who helped were just phenomenal, very attentive.”
Apparently, his reputation preceded him.
“They said, ‘We heard about you. You’re in really good shape for an old guy. You’ll handle it OK,’” Norris said.
Within weeks he was back into training mode, which Dr. Malvitz said was “pushing the envelope a little bit.”
Because running can be a lonely enterprise, he found motivation in the then-upcoming Irish Jig.
“I asked myself, ‘Do you want to run by yourself up here (in Bailey), or run with thousands of people?'”
Norris surprised himself, averaging 11 minutes per mile instead of the 15-minute miles he expected.
‘Quite an adventure’
Norris has been running for about 60 years, and he’s still going strong.
A self-proclaimed “Army brat,” he started by racing through the woods on Army bases.
He joined the track team in high school, and then he competed at the college level, where he ran a 4:19 mile and a 9:34 two-mile.
“It was just run, run, run,” he said.
Throughout his career in the U.S. Air Force, he not only launched Thor-Burner rockets into orbit, but he also kept training, organized track teams and even helped a young hurdler make the transition to distance running. That young athlete eventually went on to win the 1978 Chicago Marathon.
“It’s been quite an adventure,” Norris said.
The names of local competitions trip off Norris’ tongue as he remembers his finishes, and sometimes his injuries, from each.
Before surgery, he presented Dr. Malvitz with a two-page list of his recent competitions.
“I’ve known him for almost 10 years,” Dr. Malvitz said. “He is super motivated, and it’s fun to take care of patients like that.”
Norris is a Michigan Senior Olympics ambassador, and he won a gold medal in the men’s triathlon in his age bracket last summer. He also finished first in his age group at the 2017 Millennium Triathlon, which is associated with the State Games of America.
To stay in shape, Norris transformed his home into a virtual gym.
His treadmill and bicycle stand in the middle of his spare bedroom, which he calls his “ego room” because the walls are covered with his awards and ribbons. A windowed porch houses an endless pool, where he swims against the current for 30 minutes daily. A pull-up bar in a doorway encourages upper body strengthening. And a whirlpool tub is handy for daily muscle recovery.
When he’s not training, Norris stays busy driving a school bus, crafting woodworking projects and bow hunting for turkey.
“If you don’t keep moving you die. You’ve gotta keep moving,” he said.