Evolving Identities: Jeff Ursino’s Fit After Fifty Story

by Alison McIrvin
Evolving Identities: Jeff Ursino’s Fit After Fifty Story

Over the years, Jeff Ursino has successfully taken on a number of identities in his pursuit of fitness. He grew up playing a wide variety of team sports and was especially successful in track as a 400-meter runner. After high school, however, he had no thought of continuing to compete and just figured he was finished with that identity.

The lack of a regular approach to activities in his 20s and early 30s resulted in weight gain and impacted his self-esteem. Then Jeff’s older brother invited him on a mountain climb, and by Jeff’s 40th birthday, a new identity of mountain climber had evolved.

Weekend climbs provided the motivation to stay in shape during the week, which Jeff did. This energized Jeff with pride and a sense of accomplishment while modeling a positive lifestyle for his kids.

Jeff’s climbing goals grew more ambitious throughout his 40s as he attempted more and more challenging peaks. An admirable accomplishment was an expedition to a 16,000-foot peak in Indonesia. The rigorous, week-long high country trek just to make it to base camp took Jeff’s already great fitness to a new level. He returned from that trip with a recalibrated mental approach to his capabilities.

[Related: Hiking Guide for Adventurers Over Age 50]

Jeff and a friend posing at the top of a mountain
Jeff continues to challenge himself with increasingly difficult summits.

Entering his 50s, Jeff was healthier and more fit than he had been in his 20s and 30s. He began to ask himself where to go from there. His answer came in the form of a challenge from another brother who had a marathon on his bucket list. Prior to this, Jeff had not competed in anything longer than a 5K, but as he was recovering from a divorce at the time, he was actively seeking out new challenges. 

Jeff committed to training for the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in four short months to transform himself from fit hiker to marathon runner. In six months, he completed an 8K and 12K in addition to the marathon.

While training for events like this, Jeff sets his sights on goals more ambitious than just finishing; he typically finishes in the top quarter of his age group.

[Related: Tips for Runners Over Age 50]

As an educator, Jeff believes in educating himself about training, equipment, efficient form, and so on. The journey has been good and has introduced him to some really wonderful and helpful people. 

I know that even in my mid 50s, there are new horizons, and that the feeling of trying new things and all that comes along with that is still there for the taking.”

Hacks that work:

  • Setting goals along the way
  • Charting out a series of workouts
  • Listening to motivational music while training
  • Taking advice from more experienced participants
  • Tracking running progress via a phone app

[Related: How to Strengthen Your Willpower and Motivation for Fitness After 50]

Jeff and his brother smiling with their San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll Marathon metals
Jeff and his brother completed the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.

When asked about setbacks, Jeff mentions illnesses as well as a mix of acute and overuse injuries. His 25-year journey coaching high school track has helped him to recognize these injuries for what they are and to adjust his training accordingly.

This can sometimes be hard and requires patience and reminders that he will bounce back. Since turning 50, Jeff has realized that there is no offseason. He knows that fitness is easier to maintain than to regain, so he hits the gym regularly year-round to keep himself fit for the adventures and challenges that he loves.

Jeff sees himself as a “committed omnivore” and loves food! He does eat healthily, though, with little red meat, lots of veggies, fresh foods, and few sweets. It is all about portion control and keeping even the splurges at intelligent levels.

[Related: A Guide to Proper Nutrition After 50]

Moving forward, Jeff’s identity is that of an avid alpine climber who seeks to complete the remaining notable volcanoes in the Cascade Range that he has yet to summit. Jeff loves staying active and adventuring with his four athletic, young adult children, which has included a Mount Baker summit with his oldest son.

Jeff recognizes that some of his friends his age or younger have dealt with significant health problems related to weight and inactivity. Seeing families lose husbands and fathers at relatively young ages has motivated him to stay on his path. He is determined to make choices that will result in the identity of “that ridiculously old guy still chugging up a mountain or along a half-marathon course!”

I think that Jeff knows his identity well, don’t you? How do you see yourself in your fitness journey? How does that identity shape your choices?

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