5 Impressive Achievements By People Who Were as Old as Dirt

5 Impressive Achievements By People Who Were as Old as Dirt

The old adage of “respect your elders” has never been more difficult to follow. Nowadays, there’s plenty of ammunition for derision of the old farts among us. Whether it’s observing them attempting to set up an Apple TV or the dying, burning planet they’ve left us, the younger generation is understandably, often a little peeved. The DVRs packed full of Fox News broadcasts don’t help either.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some creaky-boned Boomers and beyond achieving some very impressive things. For every old man having a meltdown in the soup aisle of Whole Foods, there’s another out there doing things that make even a millennial’s knees ache. Sure, the only speaking engagement some of the prodigiously aged are engaging in is a racial screed at a Thanksgiving dinner table, but there’s also at least a few inspiring octogenarians who should be giving a TED Talk, even if they’re going to have a hell of a time with that lapel mic and running the PowerPoint.

Here are five thoroughly impressive old people…

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Jean Thurel

Public Domain

War is apparently great for your complexion and hair.

If you join a military unit and see a soldier next to you nearing the century mark of his life, it has to be a conflicting feeling. At first, you might think, “Who the hell is going to be in charge of carrying this old fart around?” A little more thought, though, might bring you to the conclusion that anybody who’s able to be a soldier into their 80s, 90s and beyond, must be pretty damn good at not getting killed. I might not be counting on him to drag me to safety in a pinch, but I’ll sure as hell bend his ear for some tips and tricks.

French soldier Jean Thurel accomplished exactly this. He joined the military at the age of 18, and would remain not only in the service, but as an active, fighting member until his death at the eye-popping final age of 108. Most people aren’t hitting that in a nursing home, much less in close proximity to firearms. You might also assume that the bulk of those later years were parked behind a cushy desk at a high rank, but Thurel famously denied any and all promotions, remaining a simple infantryman until his death. The French Army has a medal known as the Medallion des Deux Epees, given for someone who’s served 24 years in the army. When they came up with it, I doubt they ever thought they’d be giving three to the same guy.

Minoru Saito


Magellan could never.

Some rich dick with a highly liquid trust fund might call themselves a globetrotter, racking up airline loyalty points and becoming vastly familiar with the premium lounges of the world’s airports. They’d have nothing on lifelong sailor Minoru Saito, who might have them beat on both distance and pure cool factor. Circumnavigation of the globe may not be as hot a pursuit as it was back when we thought the sea was packed with kraken, but it’s never not been a dangerous and almost unimaginable feat.

Saito could tell you all about it, though, as he circumnavigated the globe by sea eight times over his life. Just in case that doesn’t tickle your adventure pickle, he also did it completely solo, one time sailing west to east, which is considered much more difficult because it’s against the prevailing winds. If most people tried it even once, they’d be scooped out of the water by the Coast Guard probably within the week. Saito, though, must have a hell of a favor owed by Poseidon, because he survived them all, including his final voyage, completed in 2011 at the age of 77.

Gladys Burrill


I would think at 92, there would be a real risk of your leg falling off.

Speaking of things I probably wouldn’t survive, let’s consider a marathon. You’re obviously talking about an incredibly grueling achievement when it’s named after a distance that killed the first man that ran it from exhaustion. Meanwhile, I could probably cause a cardiac event by going nuts on an elliptical. Even in the prime of your life, completing a marathon is a testament to a hell of a ticker. Given how heart function tends to trend downward as you age, doing it in your later years is even more impressive (and probably terrifying for your family).

Gladys Burrill decided that running marathons was a sane goal when she was already 86 years old. At an age where everybody gets nervous about you tackling stairs by yourself, she was running 26.2 miles. Even after completing it, she decided that particular cap needed more feathers and ran it another five times, her final completed marathon coming at 92. She’s since passed, unfortunately, but she might have been one of the only people I’d ever willingly listen to the marathon stories of.

Tamae Watanabe


Do they make orthotics for crampons?

If a marathon finish line sounds like an unwise destination for an elderly person to pick, consider that it’s at least a little more reasonable than the summit of Mount Everest. We’re talking about a travel destination that’s littered with the bodies of adventurers of all ages conquered by the world’s most famous mountain. Someone of advanced age deciding to climb it sounds completely outlandish for any reason other than a badass form of euthanasia.

Yet Tamae Watanabe decided to take it on at the age of 73. Against all odds, she completed the trek, landing her on this list and not on a list of “really old people who threw themselves willingly into the gaping maw of death.” It wasn’t her first time to the top, as she was already the oldest woman to climb Everest at 63 years old, but she took one more stab to really etch that record in stone. Meanwhile, I make a guttural noise getting out of low couches.

Al Pacino


We need to research his fertility to ensure our species future.

The other achievements on this list could be considered medical marvels, even if they’re held by people who clearly value their fitness and health above all. Recent news about beloved, oft-impersonated actor Al Pacino is a medical marvel in itself for a simpler, grosser reason. Apparently, Pacino has become a father again at 83 years old. How in the world that ancient hog isn’t puffing dust at this point is up to doctors to crack, but mazel tov to the old horndog, I guess.

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