Retired management consultant Rob Jerome has been photographing athletes hurling themselves over high-jump bars since 2007, when his friend, masters athlete Karl Hawke, asked him to take shots of him jumping so he could analyze his technique. “Capturing the human body in flight was very challenging, but also very aesthetically rewarding,” Jerome says. After accompanying Hawke to the U.S. National Indoor Championships, he was hooked. So now Jerome, 60, spends most of his photographic energies on masters athletes. But these are not the masters one generally imagines—the 35- to 60-year-olds who just can’t stop competing. These masters are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s, and are competing throughout the world. Hoping to secure corporate support for competitions and individual athletes, Jerome has used his photos in presentations for groups of medical professionals and others interested in the biology of aging.
He doesn’t charge for this, nor does he charge athletes for his work, and some use his photos on Facebook accounts and personal websites. But his main aim is garnering recognition for this passionate group of masters and their hard work.
Athletes Bust Ageism
“In the U.S., masters athletes receive little or no corporate, governmental or organizational support to attend competitions. This is not true in France, where Renault sponsors masters athletes, or in Germany, where Mercedes Benz offers support,” Jerome says, adding, “on a more mercenary level, I hope to get corporate America to recognize that it is good business to offer sponsorships to older athletes. Baby boomers do not buy products from 20-year-old spokespeople.”
But baby boomers aren’t used to seeing their peers and elders in this level of sporting activity. Which is why Jerome likes to shatter stereotypes of what many people think older adults can (or should) do. “The image of a 90-year-old woman throwing herself through the air at an age when most of her peers have a fear of falling has the power to reshape conceptions about older adults,” he says.
Reflecting on our deeply ingrained suppositions about aging, Jerome talks about the inclination of most medical professionals to patch up younger athletes and send them back onto the field. Yet when dealing with older athletes, those same doctors encourage them to stop. Jerome tries to convince them to “think in a more nuanced fashion when telling older adults (and not just older athletes) to stop doing something that is integral to their self-image.”
In early July, Jerome will be in Sacramento, Calif., for the World Masters Athletic Championships, which brings together more than 5,000 older athletes. It’s the first time the World Masters have been held in the United States since 1995.
He hopes attendance will be stronger than at a similar event in 2010, when the viewing stands were practically empty. “In the U.S., people pay hundreds of dollars to watch an Olympic competition, but let those same athletes get a little older and no one is interested in watching them,” Jerome says.
To view Rob Jerome’s illuminating slide shows, some of which have garnered comment from staffers in the Obama Administration and the U.N. Programme on Ageing, click here.
Senior editor Alison Biggar is a Bay Area-based freelance writer and editor.
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the May/June, 2011, issue of Aging Today, ASA’s bi-monthly newspaper covering issues in aging research, practice and policy nationwide. ASA members receive Aging Today as a member benefit; non-members may purchase subscriptions at our online store.
Photo by Rob Jerome
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