Off to the Races with Allan Benjamin

55+pep rally
Old Crow resident Allan Benjamin and Team Yukon are shown here at the pre-games pep rally in July

Looking for healthy-living inspiration? Turn your gaze from younger athletes and movie stars toward the golden generation – 55 might just be the new 20.

Just ask the 97 Yukoners aged 55 to 91 who will be participating in the 2016 Canada 55+ Games in Brampton, Ontario from Aug. 16 to 19. For four days, they will jump, swim, compete in pickleball (which is a cross between ping pong and tennis), run with seniors from across Canada and generally put your own workout routine to shame.

Allan Benjamin from Old Crow is one of these athletes who’s been getting ready to represent the Yukon Territory in the races. He will run in the 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-metre races as well as the five kilometre race.

While it is Benjamin’s first time competing in the Canada 55+ Games, he isn’t new to racing.

“I have competed extensively in snowshoe races throughout the years,” says Benjamin, “and have been blessed with several first place winnings.”

Benjamin has competed in snowshoe races in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and all over the north. In 1993, he won the Iditashoe – a 100-mile snowshoe race in Anchorage – by one second. He established a new record while defeating multi-time winner Shawn Lyons.

Benjamin’s race training incorporates the environment and aspects of a lifestyle that are unique to Yukon. Four days a week he runs up hills and cycles daily while also running the airport loop in Old Crow. He also works on his cabin regularly. It took a while to get in touch with Benjamin for this interview. We played phone tag because he was on top of his cabin, repairing the roof.

He strives for a healthy diet even when not training for a race.

“I have always watched my diet and don’t eat sugar, salt, or fat,” Benjamin says. “I eat a lot of fresh fruit, which constitutes the majority of the food I eat daily.  I eat meat, but it is not a staple in my diet. Also, I drink a lot of water and herbal tea.”

Showing the benefits of maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle is one of the main reasons Benjamin is participating in the games.

“It makes me sad when I hear people say, for example, I used to ski or snowshoe,” Benjamin says. “People should stay active even if they don’t compete anymore. Do some form of physical activity daily and you feel better about yourself and you will be healthier.”

By staying physically active, Benjamin feels that we can keep our bodies healthy well into old age and decrease the prevalence of health problems that we face today: “Our ancestors did not have the health issues that people have today such as diabetes and heart disease. I am not saying that no one was ill, yet it was not to (the) extent that these health problems are present in people’s life today.”

He is hoping to meet new friends at the races. He will show pride in his First Nation culture and heritage. Doing so, he hopes to encourage other First Nation to, “Never give up and do their best each day regardless of their circumstances.”

Team Yukon by the Numbers

Here is a breakdown of the 2016 Canada 55+ Games in Brampton, Ontario and the Yukoners who are on their way to compete.

97 participants from seven communities, including: Dawson City, Faro, Marsh Lake, Old Crow, Tagish, Watson Lake and Whitehorse.

55 female participants, 42 male participants.

The oldest participant is 91 years old and 10 participants are over the age of 80.

15 sports will be competed in, including slo-pitch, curling, cribbage, pickleball, swimming, and track and field.

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