Ray O’Brien said he’s earned so many trophies from years of competition that he’s had to give some away.
Some of his trophies are displayed at Oceanside Wellness and Sport in Egg Harbor Township, where O’Brien, 80, still trains.
O’Brien has spent most of his life competing in sports such as cycling, running, bodybuilding and powerlifting.
The Galloway Township resident, who recently returned to training for powerlifting after a 15-year break, encourages people to never use age as an excuse against reaching their goals.
“It’s interesting how many people have looked at me through the years and said ‘I want to be like that guy when I’m older,’” O’Brien said. “And I’m still doing it.”
Growing up, O’Brien said he was always an active person.
“When we were young, all we would do is play sports — morning, day and night,” O’Brien said. “I was Golden Glove in boxing, and when I went into the service I was on the boxing team and football team.”
When O’Brien returned from military duty, his lifestyle quickly changed.
“Next thing you know, you get married, have children and start playing golf instead of baseball,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien realized he needed to overhaul his choices before he permanently altered his health.
“I was 32 when I got out of shape,” O’Brien said. “I decided, ‘you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna go out and run,’ but I couldn’t run, I was so out of shape. I sat down and had a good talk with myself and said where do you wanna be when you're 50, 60, or older?”
“I made the decision from that point to exercise, eliminate my diet, no drinking, no smoking and I became a vegetarian.”
O’Brien took up cycling and forced himself to stick with it by purchasing the most expensive bike he could afford at the time.
Within a year, O’Brien worked his way up to 100-mile rides.
“I was so engrossed in it I became an official for the United States Bike Association and became Chief Arbitrator for the United States,” O’Brien said. “I was president of the (United States Cycling Federation) for about six years in North Jersey and that kind of propelled me.”
O’Brien said that he was inducted into the New Jersey Cycling Hall of Fame in the mid-1980s and also co-founded the New Jersey Summit Cycling Club in the late 1960s, among other accomplishments and honors in the sport. He’s still a member of Hammonton’s Pro Pedals Cycling team.
O’Brien attempted his first marathon in the late 1970s. Despite limited running experience, his time from that marathon was good enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which he completed for his first time in 1979.
“I ran about 100 races a year for a while,” O’Brien said. “Every weekend, Wednesday nights, things like that. Then I finally broke the three-hour marathon by tenths of a second, and for some reason that completed what I wanted to do. Once I got that, for some reason that did it.”
O’Brien went back to cycling, golf and weight training for several years until a co-worker introduced him to powerlifting. He competed in his first competition when he was 65.
“In powerlifting, it’s simple: you either lift it or you don’t,” O’Brien said. “That’s where it’s been for me recently. Fifteen years ago was the last time I powerlifted. I started up six months ago, and that’s where I want to get back to.”
“I used to lift 400 pounds. I’d be happy to get to 300 and thrilled to get there 15 years later.”
One of O’Brien’s philosophies for staying healthy while training is to not rely on a single form of exercise.
“I stay within myself,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think you can powerlift forever, or ride a bike or run forever because some piece of that machine is going to break down. You need to take all of that together instead of doing the same thing forever.”
Sean Sutton, a trainer at Oceanside, is currently working with O’Brien to prepare him for a powerlifting competition later this year. Sutton, who competed in powerlifting from 1994-2004, is impressed with what O’Brien has been able to accomplish at his age.
“I’ve been working with him recently, and he's been turning heads like crazy in here,” Sutton said. “People can't believe that someone of his age is doing the things he does. We're hoping to accomplish some wins. His motto is ‘age is only but a number,’ and he's been showing that.”
O’Brien currently works as a limousine driver for Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City but has also worked in real estate along with other jobs throughout his life.
Over the years, O’Brien has volunteered his time to training others whenever an opportunity presents itself.
“If anybody needs help, in the gym or anywhere else, I help them,” O’Brien said. “People helped me along the way, so I'm gonna help others.
He said he is always happy to share wisdom he’s gained from a long and successful athletic career to anyone — especially with people his age.
“I tell them there’s no such thing as age,” he said. “You’re either fit or you’re not fit. I don’t care if you’re 100 or 25, if you try to use that as a crutch, you’ll never get anywhere.”