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The will of an Iron Man

This 75-year-old has been competing in triathlons since he was 50

August 08, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Triathlete Joe Tischer, 75, of Hagerstown, exercises twice daily and sees a personal trainer throughout the week.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer,

They call Joe Tischer the Iron Man.

At age 75, Tischer has competed in more than 100 triathlons - an endeavor he started at age 50. He's finished three Iron Man competitions and two JFK 50-mile races. He's a hall-of-famer at Towson University for track and lacrosse.

Not even a shoulder replacement, knee replacement or arm and back surgeries are enough to stop him from competing.

"I have a life philosophy and a business philosophy," said Tischer, from the sunroom of his home in Fountain Head, north of Hagerstown, his swollen right ankle perched on an ottoman. Tischer also needs ankle surgery.

"You've got to play through hurt - emotionally and physically," Tischer said. "If you do anything with commitment and zest, you get hurt."

Work hard, train hard seems to be the motto of a man who saw success as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and athlete.

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Tischer said sports gave him an outlet as a youngster growing up in a low-income Baltimore neighborhood. He had to overcome attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in order to graduate from Maryland State Teachers College at Towson - what is now known as Towson University - in 1959, and, later, obtain a Master of Business Administration from Loyola University in Baltimore.

Tischer is a member of Towson's Board of Visitors. He recently retired from the insurance business, though he still does some consulting and teaches business courses at his alma mater.

This would seem satisfying for most, but for Tischer it isn't. "There are a few things I could have done but didn't that I still mourn," he said.

Science suggests being more active helps stave off some of the effects of aging. During the interview, Tischer said part of his motivation to stay in shape was due to "vanity."

Harvard researchers found that debilitation of aging is caused by the deterioration of connections between nerves and muscles known as neuromuscular junctions. But exercise and calorie restrictions can rejuvenate these older synapses.

The findings were published in the Aug. 2 edition of the online journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tischer had different ideas about what keeps him going and feeling young. He said it all started at around age 50 with an experience he referred to it as "menopause for men" - the point where a man no longer says, "Hey, it's my birthday."

"Instead he says, I wonder how much longer I've got to live?" Tischer said.

Upon this realization, Tischer said some men start dating more women, others buy motorcycles.

"For me, it was triathlons," he said. "It's a way of life."

But perhaps what really motivated Tischer to keep going were best reflected in a poem he wrote and his wife, calligrapher Christine Tischer, transcribed on a poster displayed in their basement. He said he was inspired to write it after reading Pat Conroy's "My Losing Season."

"Lessons of defeat and fear never leave us," Tischer wrote in his poem, which recounts an athlete's passion for competition and the reward that comes with victory.

Tischer speaks of a passion that doesn't fade with age, and ends the poem with the final thought, "We are still playing."

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