Clarke Holland is a dual-sport athlete, having competed at the World Weightlifting Championships and —this week— in the CrossFit Games for the sixth time.
Holland is also 65 years old, the oldest competitor by two years in the men’s Masters 60-plus division. And he doesn’t plan on slowing down just yet.
“Friends or colleagues definitely don’t understand, they say, ‘I could never do that’ or ‘There’s no way,” said Holland, who is semi-retired from his law practice. “I realize that people in their 50s and 60s could have some mobility issue that make things difficult. But I think the average 60-year-old can still do a huge percentage of CrossFit things that would make their lives a lot better.”
It’s certainly worked for Holland, who first walked into a CrossFit gym at 58 years old looking for a way to improve his half marathon time. A friend suggested he try to get some upper body work in and Holland —who has always had trouble adding weight— started going to Michael Papes for personal training. Papes had just opened Tamalpais CrossFit so Holland would train there one-on-one.
Unable to do a pull-up and any more than a few push-ups, Holland started to see some real progress after just a few months and jumped in to regular classes.
He’s never looked back, competing in the 2011 CrossFit Open and qualifying as a 60-year-old the first year (2012) The CrossFit Games added the Masters division.
“It’s a stereotype. Heavy lifting is something that people in their 50s who don’t do it look at it as, ‘Gee, you can really hurt yourself’. From my point of view, that’s a huge mistake,” Holland said.
“I’ve had very slight injuries, but I got hurt as much running as I got hurt CrossFitting.
“As you get older with joints and arthritis you certainly start to feel it more, but the actual lifting process doesn’t hurt me. And obviously in competition you are lifting pretty heavy weights sometimes. I gravitate toward Olympic lifting. It’s something that’s as big a part of my life as CrossFit.”
Holland, who was a competitive swimmer growing up, never even lifted free weights until he started at CrossFit. Now, it’s a near-daily part of his routine, as the 77 kg. lifter has a 124 lb. snatch and a 175 lb. clean-and-jerk.
And while he kept up the serious running —which included about 20-30 weekly miles— for about 18 months after he started at Tamalpais, Holland doesn’t do much of it anymore.
“I started to realize how important body mass was, especially in lifting, so I started cutting back on the running,” said Holland, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 163 lb.
“My upper body is way stronger. Pull-ups are now not a problem. I can do muscle ups. [Lifting has] vastly improved my overall strength and conditioning. I couldn’t run a half marathon today the way I did five years ago but, from an overall fitness standpoint, I’m in much better shape.”
Holland also helps others get in better shape, as he started coaching about four years ago. He owns his CrossFit Level 1 and Level 2 certifications and is typically at the gym six days a week.
Already the elder among the senior group, Holland —who turns 66 in December— knows his competing CrossFit days could be numbered unless there’s a 65-plus group added.
Holland, who plans on competing in weightlifting —where age groups go up to the 80s — didn’t expect to make it the Games this year and plans on enjoying every minute of competing in Madison, Wisc.
“A few years ago at the Games, the final workout was the first time we did muscle-ups and only a few could do it. Two years later, now everyone inn the top 15-20 can do muscle-ups,” Holland said.
“As the challenge has grown, the people and the age groups are meeting it. So, it’s definitely going to be interesting to see in 10 or 15 years, you look at people like Ron Ortiz and some of these guys who are in their 50s and seeing what they can do. I might live long enough to see what Rich Froning can do as a 60 year old. Who knows?”