We all want to believe that we can remain world-class athletes well past our prime, crossing up defenders in our corporate basketball leagues and diving for touchdowns in our flag football games. Some people can actually stay in shape for decades – and on stages much bigger than local gyms and fields.
Dr. Riley Williams, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery, knows what it takes for professional athletes to play into their late 30s and early 40s. "These guys who all played in these different sports for a long time really, really, really had to be focused and motivated mentally to continue to perform at a high level," he says. "Because physiologically, none of us are set up to do that for a really long, long time." Williams is the medical director for the Brooklyn Nets as well as the medical director and orthopedic surgeon for the New York Red Bulls. He spoke to 'Men's Journal' about some of the most impressive veteran athletes still playing today.
After missing 2011 due to neck surgery, Peyton Manning steered the Broncos to a first-place AFC West finish in 2012. The 37-year-old now has Denver at 7-1 while passing for more yards and touchdowns than any other NFL quarterback. "There were people – myself included – who wondered if he'd have any arm strength to come back and be effective," Williams says. "He must have a great degree of mental fortitude to be able to come back to the sport and wonder a) is he going to be able to do it because of his ability and b) if he can take the beatings that quarterbacks do on a weekly basis."
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