OLDER is better. At least that seems to be the motto for Odd Haugen. He wears his title as the "Strongest Man in America'' like the slippers he kicks off before entering his Lanikai home.
A strong case that
life begins at 50
Haugen is very comfortable with himself, his body and his age. He turns 50 this Sunday and, to mark the milestone, he'll attempt to break the world record in the "Super Yoke" race to benefit the Hawaii Special Olympics.
The 30-meter course will be at the Aloha Tower Marketplace and Haugen, who has been a weightlifter since age 10, will carry an 800-pound yoke on his shoulder and try to better the time of 20.4 seconds, set last September by Svend Karlsen at the World Strongman Competition in Malta.
"I'm not into self-promotion but 50 is a pretty big birthday and I thought maybe I'd do something special,'' said Haugen, a native Norwegian who has called Hawaii home the past 10 years. "I was supposed to be competing this weekend in Saudi Arabia but, when the event was canceled, I thought about doing something here in Hawaii and raising money for a good cause.''
He'd also like to raise the awareness of the benefits of weightlifting for older athletes. The founder of Gold's Gym is a firm believer that fitness is a lifestyle for a lifetime.
"I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life,'' said Haugen, who is 6-foot-4 and around 300 pounds. "You are not dead at 50. When I won the U.S. strongman championship last year, half the guys in the finals were half my age.
"The second-place guy was 25, the third-place guy was 23. Some of them called me 'Dad.' But the truth is I feel stronger now than when I was at their age. And, as shocked as they were when I won, I would have been more shocked if I hadn't.''
HAUGEN believes in a whole-body concept that includes nutrition, aerobic exercise and weights. Research shows that people doing resistance training, such as weightlifting, can continue to build muscle through their 90s.
"No sense in having a strong heart if you don't have strong muscles,'' he said. "Muscle strength becomes more important as you grow older.
"The funny thing is I seem to have fewer aches and pains now than when I was younger. Through the years, I've learned a lot about myself, how to improve my training and how to stay injury free.''
Haugen began his athletic career in America playing football and running track for Western Maryland. The former Mr. Norway signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins in 1973 and then with the San Francisco 49ers before earning a masters in business administration at Cal.
"It was an honor just to be asked by George Allen,'' said Haugen, an outside linebacker. "My funniest memory about the Redskins was the first time I was in their locker room and saw these two fat guys sitting on the bench, getting treatments.
"They looked like they had never played football before, like a couple of guys who had been out drinking the night before. But they were two tough cookies.''
The two were quarterbacks Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer.
Haugen left last night on a business trip (he's a senior director for 24-Hour Fitness, which acquired Gold's Gyms in 1996). He'll return Friday and prepare for his world-record attempt.
"The guy who holds the record is also Norwegian,'' Haugen said of Karlsen. "He e-mailed me and said that if his record was going to be broken, at least we'd keep it in Norway.''
Age is a state of mind and Haugen doesn't mind at all.
Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.