Lee Davy shares his opinion, and a few facts, on the ageing process of the brain and why we should salute Pierre Neuville and Neil Blumenfield for their performances at the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event.
Do you ever think about death?
I did last night.
I was watching Match of the Day when I learned that the former Everton manager Howard Kendall had died at the age of 69. “That could be me in 29-years,” I thought. My thoughts then moved to my parents. My dad is 65, and my mother is 60. My in-laws are in their 70s.
My grandparents died in their 70s, killed by the sedentary life that plagues so many of us today. It was as if they had given up the zest for life. They watched TV all day, they never ventured far from the front door, and although they seemed content with it, I found it quite sad.
It’s not easy when you get older. Not only do you become physically weaker, but the brain goes through enormous changes. It shrinks, mainly due to a lack of water, meaning it also dries out. Technology allows us to view our brains with more accuracy than ever before. Experts can see this shrinkage, and understand that it plays a key role in cognitive decline.
The cognitive decline of their brains, wouldn’t have affected my grandparents, as much as some, when they were alive. Their lives were pretty steady. The only cognitive challenge they got was doing the local crossword, figuring out what rubbish they could watch on their four channels and what to have for dinner.
But imagine you were playing poker?
As the brain slows, it’s less capable when it comes to processing very complicated information; especially true when it comes to the memory and the need to remember an action before another action takes place – a vital part of the game.
All of this makes the achievements of Neil Blumenfield, 61, and Pierre Neuville, 72, either amazing statistical anomalies or fantastic examples of the ability of the brain to overcame the roadblocks that ageing places in the way.
Both players are the oldest ever to appear in the November Nine, and Neuville must rank as one of the eldest to ever appear in a World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event Final Table, particular in the modern era. One thing we do know, without a doubt, is he will become the eldest WSOP Main Event champion in history if he wins the $7.6m first prize.
The pair is inspirational. They are proof personified that age should not be a barrier to success no matter what the experts may tell us about our brain. Granted, sitting on your ass, playing poker for 12-hours at a time, will hasten your cognitive decline, but the social element of the game and the constant buzz of the travel must surely balance out over time.
In fact, one of the reasons that many experts believe leads to a declining memory and brain performance is the expectation that it will. It’s the classic placebo case at work, and the more cases of age overcoming significant sporting hurdles that we hear of, the more gusto will be put into the sails of the aged that follow.
With that in mind, here are a few more inspirations for you to file in the memory banks before they dry up and wither away.
In 2014, British long-distance runner, Joanne Pavey, won the 10,000 gold medal at the European Championships in Zurich at the age of 40. 10-months prior she had given birth to her second child.
At the age of 42, recovering alcohol Rich Roll completed a never before attempted endurance feat known as EPIC5: Five Iron Distance Triathlons, on five different islands in Hawaii, in five days. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon, each day, for five days.
But the 40s is chicken feed for a man like Neuville.
Gordon Howe was the National Hockey League (NHL) main individual record holder until Wayne Gretzky came along and smashed them all to pieces. One record he didn’t take, however, was the oldest man to play in the NHL; a feat that Howe did at the age of 52.
A long time before we uttered the name eSports, Doris Self, 58, became the world’s oldest video game champion. Self earned the accolade by accumulating a world record score of 1,112,300 points playing Twin Galaxies at the 1984 Video Game Masters Tournament.
Neuville’s still not impressed.
At 71-years of age, Mexican Salvador Reyes became the oldest ever footballer to appear in a competitive match when the club Chivas allowed him to take the kick off against Pumas. They substituted him immediately afterwards.
As you would expect from a man in his 70s, Pierre Neuville has had his fingers in a lot of pies. At one time in his life, he was a professional consultant and one of his clients was the golfer Gary Player. At 79, the South African is the oldest professional golfer still playing on the circuit.
But none of these feats, come close to that of 92-year old Gladys Burrill, who became the oldest woman to complete a marathon when she jogged, and power walked around the Honolulu Marathon in nine hours 53 minutes. She ran her first-ever marathon at the age of 86.
Are you still thinking about death?