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.
"He's an interesting study, because he's built more like a soccer player than . . . a basketball player," Williams says. "He is not going to subject his knees and ankles to the same amount of stress as, say, a center or a forward, a bigger person." But the 39-year-old point guard – the oldest active NBA player – struggled with leg, hip, and groin injuries last season and has an ankle injury this year. With age, Williams says, athletes need more recovery time. "It does get more problematic."
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