“In the middle of the room stand two 1.6m high Parallel bars – an unusual contraption for a granny in her ninth decade, clad in a green leotard.”
Continuing my series on “athletes who inspire”, today’s feature is on Johanna Quaas, a ninety three year old gymnast, and officially the oldest gymnast in the world according to the Guinness World Records.
Born in Hohenmölsen, Quaas started gymnastics at an early age, and appeared in her first competition at age nine. She switched to handball after World War II, when then East Germany discouraged individual sports and promoted team sports instead. Quaas excelled in handball as well, and her team even won the East German Championship of 1954. By age twenty, she completed her training as a gymnastics coach in Stuttgart, and subsequently trained coaches at the Institut für Körpererziehung. After getting married and raising three children, Quaas began competing again at age fifty-six – with two friends and fellow gymnasts, one five years older than her and the other four years younger. (The two friends have since died.) Quaas has co-authored a book on gymnastics, often referred to as ‘the’ textbook for gymnastics – “Gerätturnen“. In 2012, she received an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records as the “oldest gymnast in the world”.
Usually, gymnasts do not stay in the sport for decades as tendons and ligaments stiffen with age, and the body’s ability to absorb force against the joints diminishes – an invitation for injury. Quaas, however, reveals she uses gymnastics as a preventive tool – to avoid being susceptible to falls. The sporty granny (and a great-grandmother as well) trains for an hour every day, and counts hiking, swimming and dancing as her other pursuits. She sleeps for six hours a day, eats a lot of fruits and vegetables, and loves whipping up dishes of pork and sauerkraut.
A green, crushed velvet leotard, is her signature outfit. When Quaas performs on the Parallel bars, not many people even half her age have the dexterity, strength and flexibility to perform such tricks balancing on one’s arms. Her upper body strength might be unmatched for many people quarter of her age. “My face is old, but my heart is young“, is her message for older people as she travels around the world for events. Quaas speaks via an interpreter. Her quotes are brisk, but say a lot. “If you are fit, it is easier to master life“, said Quaas in an interview to The Sunday Times. “When there is movement, there is life“, she signs off. This is a video of Quaas performing an impressive routine on the Parallel bars at a competition in Berlin in 2016.
Washington Post, June 20 2017
The Sunday Times, April 30th 2017