PGA Tour Professional golf
Phil Mickelson as he hoists the trophy for the 2021 PGA Championship. Photo credit: Screen shot, @PGATour, via Twitter

Pro golfer Phil Mickelson can break his own record with a victory at this week’s U.S. Open Golf Championship at Torrey Pines starting Thursda. One month ago, the Rancho Santa Fe resident became the oldest winner in Professional Golf Association history at age 50.

On Wednesday, the day before the tournament, Mickelson turns 51. Mickelson never gave up competing with champions 30 years younger. “There’s no reason why I or anybody else can’t do it at a later age. It just takes a little bit more work,” said Mickelson of his win.

Mickelson is among a growing list of professional athletes pushing their limits in their contest with Father Time. Among the most famous: NFL quarterback Tom Brady, age 43; and tennis champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams, both 39.

Olympic distance runner Bernard Legat, who holds the masters record in the marathon, will run the 5000 meters for the U.S. in Tokyo next month at age 46. Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan will represent her county at age 42 in a sport dominated by teenagers.

Mickelson and other aging athletes are taking advantage of scientific and medical advancements allowing them to train more efficiently and effectively. Mickelson says he has significantly altered his diet, adheres to strict physical training and rest, and also trains his mind through visualization and meditation.

At Serving Seniors, we admire Mickelson for his accomplishments and deeply appreciate the way he and other older athletes are changing attitudes about aging well. We will be cheering for our hometown hero and healthy aging role model to play his best this week in La Jolla.

But it is also bittersweet as we recognize another reality. Far too many low income and homeless seniors struggle to access even the most basic healthcare. According to a Gallup survey in collaboration with West Health, an estimated 7.5 million seniors can’t afford medicines prescribed to them. Seniors report 80% of unaffordable prescriptions are for serious medical conditions.

Many seniors cannot even access healthy nutrition. One in ten San Diego County seniors reports food insecurity. From March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic shut down our facilities through March 2021, Serving Seniors served a record-breaking 1.7 million meals to low-income and homeless seniors. Average meals provided per week increased from 13,511 pre-COVID to 33,131 meals provided per week, an increase of nearly 41%.

Serving Seniors plans to reopen its Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center in July. When it opened 11 years ago, the Wellness Center reinvented senior services, providing coordinated resources with over two dozen partners, including the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, which has been operating in a limited capacity during the pandemic.

Once our doors welcome back clients, seniors can access meals, nurses and case managers, exercise classes, walking groups, and civic engagement. The pandemic also reinforced for us the importance of social engagement as a vital element of health and wellness. Not only do our fresh, nutritious meals provide the basic building blocks of healthy aging, our lively dining room service feeds the soul as well — 365 days a year and free of charge.

Serving Seniors is the single largest provider of meals to San Diego County older adults since its inception in 1970, and home-delivered meals for over 30 years. Serving Seniors feels privileged to serve this need but dismayed at the ongoing and growing need.  Serving Seniors is nearing completion of its countywide Needs Assessment report on low-income and homeless seniors. We anticipate the need for all services increasing.

As we cheer Phil Mickelson on this week watching him competing at Torrey Pines, we’ll celebrate his leadership pushing the boundaries of healthy aging and let it inspire our work. We also hope it inspires our community to help us deliver quality care to keep San Diego County’s low income and homeless adults healthy and thriving as well. 

Paul Downey is CEO of Serving Seniors, a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps seniors in poverty live healthy and fulfilling lives.