Sunday, 19 February 2012

You really are never too old - amazing story


Robert Marchand – best hour performance at 100 years old

At the age of 14 he entered his first cycling event under a false name because he was too young: yesterday he established the first-ever best hour performance…. in the category over 100 years!
And that pretty much sums up the personage of Robert Marchand. Full of energy and in possession of a huge motivation, when he has an idea in his head, nothing will stop him.
“But I’m not playing at being a champion,” assures this lightweight (1m51 for 51kg) but far from frail man whose world performance stands at 24.251km. “I just wanted to do something for my 100th birthday.”
Well why not?
Which is one of the reasons why, less than three months after his birthday, he made the trip from his studio in Mitry-Mory (near Paris) to the World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland, to attempt the world hour performance on the centre’s velodrome. The request to make the attempt came from Gérard Mistler, Président of the Ardéchoise Cyclo-Promotion – annual cyclo-sportif event that Robert Marchand never misses.
“I think he is a human example of the benefits of cycling,” enthuses Mistler. “The fact that this performance is achieved at the WCC, headquarters of the International Cycling Union, is truly symbolic.”
With Gérard Mistler taking care of the administrative side of this record attempt, the athlete himself was able to concentrate on his preparation, which included familiarising himself with the centre’s track during the four days directly preceding the official date. While his ability to cycle non-stop for an hour was never going to pose a problem, Robert Marchand had to dig deep into his personal cycling history to retrieve the sensations of riding on the track.
“I haven’t cycled on a track for 80 years. You have to get used to the fixed gear! I prefer cycling outside but that is impossible at the moment,” he complained as he watched the snow fall in bucketsful outside the WCC. “I don’t want to catch the flu. So I am short on training.”
His build-up at the WCC included a first initiation under the watchful eye and guidance of Magali Humbert, former World Juniors Champion in the sprint and multiple French Champion. The following days, he rode round the track accompanied by his “coach” Magali, increasing his time in the saddle as the day of his challenge approached.
“The track is small. You just turn round and round,” he commented after one of the training sessions. “I could keep going for another hour. I’ve been told not to raise my pulse too high so I’m not even tired.”
For all his physical exploits, this amazing pint-sized personality is obedient and follows medical advice. He has been told not to go raise his pulse over 110, and it is a rule he respects with reverence. Well, most of the time: “I did climb a steep hill not long ago and went up to 134 but it’s best to avoid that,” he admits with a mischievous chuckle. “But I would be very surprised if I had heart attack,” he offers spontaneously. His optimism would appear well-founded: his first ever cardiograph last week revealed that his heart was in excellent condition.
Optimism aside, he knows his limits and remains cautious. “For the last five years I have decided not to go for rides of more than 100km. There is no point going overboard. I want to keep cycling for some time yet.”
These words of wisdom come from a man who last competed in the Bordeaux – Paris race at nearly 90 years of age, completing the 600km in 36 hours! His name can be found in the results list of France’s mythic cyclo-sportif events and even has a mountain pass named after him.
Now to the question on everyone’s lips…. what is his secret? How is it possible to be in such frighteningly good physical, and mental, health at 100 years old?
“I’ve never abused anything. I don’t smoke, I never drank much. The only thing I did in excess was work. I retired at 89 years old!”
Retired? But of course, Robert Marchand was no professional cyclist. Besides his favourite sport, he has lived a myriad of experiences. He could talk for hours about the wars, his first job as a boy looking after cattle, his time as a gymnastics monitor with the Paris Fire Department, his eight years in Venezuela as a driver, his three years in Canada where he was a woodcutter…
“I have to try to resume everything or we’ll be here all night.” It would certainly be worth staying up all night to listen to this man who has a memory that would put anyone to shame and stories to keep any audience captivated. 
Then we get onto the subject of the other sports he was involved in when he was younger: boxing, gymnastics (French champion in the pyramid – he was the lightweight at the top), weightlifting (“I was good. I could have been a champion”).
“But basically, I am like everybody. I am lucky that I haven’t had any major health problems. My advice to anyone, young or old, is to keep moving. I do ‘physical culture’ every day. It works out my whole body and keeps me supple. Some people when they reach 80 years old, start playing cards and they stay immobile. Not me. I’ve never been able to keep still…”