It is a simple fact of the matter that every athlete is bound to go through an age-related decline that eventually robs them of their physical skills to some degree. For some, a lifetime of devotion to fitness helps to delay these effects, while others experience a rapid unraveling thanks to the impact of Father Time. When an athlete is able to continue to compete at the highest of levels in spite of their age, it is undeniably impressive and is certainly worth appreciating.
In some sports, however, it is easier to hang on despite aging. In basketball, for example, it is very rare for a player to make it past the age of 40 in the NBA. In fact, there is no active NBAer who has reached the age-40 milestone, and those who are still playing into their late-30s were among the game’s greatest players in their primes. There are other sports, of course, where it is much easier to continue to compete well into middle age, as Major League Baseball once saw Satchel Paige throw three scoreless innings in 1966 at the age of 59.
Due to the fact that there is a clear disparity among the longevity that each sport allows, this list will be composed of a sampling of the oldest active players in the four major professional sports in North America so that the oldest NBAers and NFLers are not overlooked in the process. In addition to athletes from those professional sports, one representative each is included from professional boxing, soccer, lacrosse, MMA, golf and the world of Japanese baseball. And while the NFL does have multiple kickers over the age of 40, this list includes the oldest non-kicking starters who are still active in the NFL.
15 Charles Woodson, 38
Woodson is entering his 18th season in the NFL, and the fact that he still is able to play at a high level in the defensive secondary at his age is simply incredible. As a safety, Woodson has to be able to rely on speed, agility and strength to lockdown opponents, something that most free safeties would not be able to do while entering their age-39 season as Woodson is. In a career spent with Green Bay and Oakland, Woodson is considered one of the best to ever play his position, and his longevity is all the more apparent considering he won the Heisman Trophy back in 1997, beating out none other than Peyton Manning, the next athlete on this list.
14 Peyton Manning, 38
A lock for the Hall of Fame following retirement, Manning led the Denver Broncos to a 12-4 record at the age of 38, just one season after leading the NFL in completions, passing yards, and QBR while setting the single-season record for touchdowns with 55. He is the all-time leader in touchdowns and is second all-time in passing yards, trailing only Brett Favre. He had an undeniably disappointing performance in the playoffs this season, but he will still be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when he returns for his age-39 season this fall, his 18th in the NFL.
13 Tim Duncan, 39
One of the best power forward to ever play the game, Duncan barely seems to have aged over the course of an 18-year career that began in 1997. A two-time NBA MVP and a three-time NBA Finals MVP, Duncan has anchored a Spurs franchise that has won five NBA titles during his career and is poised to make a run at a sixth. The 15-time NBA All-Star is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, and even at the age of 39 has been able to give the Spurs 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game during the 2014-15 regular season.
12 Andre Miller, 39
One of the more underrated point guards of his generation, Miller has never had to rely on superior athleticism to be successful in the NBA. His great court vision and passing prowess has enabled him to become a mainstay of NBA rosters, and after finishing out his most recent season with the Sacramento Kings, Miller is ninth all-time in assists handed out in the NBA. One of the most durable players in the NBA during his prime, Miller played in all 82 games nine times during his 16 seasons in the NBA.
11 Kimmo Timonen, 40
The Finnish defenseman was taken in the NHL Entry Draft all the way back in 1993, though he did not make his debut until the 1998-99 season. Now with the Chicago Blackhawks, Timonen suffered a big setback at the beginning of this most recent season that caused him to miss 62 games with blood clots in both of his lungs along with one in his leg. Even at his advanced age -- and despite the fact that he was coming back from a serious health issue -- the Blackhawks still traded multiple draft picks in order to acquire Timonen from the Flyers. He has played over 1,110 games in the NHL and has racked up 571 points during his 16-year career.
10 Sergei Gonchar, 41
Gonchar debuted in the NHL at the age of 20 during the 1994-95 season, beginning a long and successful career that has now spanned 20 seasons with six different franchises. A frequent contender for the Norris Trophy, Gonchar’s career has included four All-Star Games and two selections to the NHL All-Star Second Team. At the age of 41, Gonchar has seen his role reduced quite a bit, but he has demonstrated that he can still be an effective contributor on the power play.
9 Bartolo Colon, 41
The portly pitcher from the Dominican Republic has been responsible for some of the most hilarious outtakes in recent MLB memory. Whether he is showing off his significant heft in the dugout by shaking his belly with both hands or swinging so wildly at the plate that his helmet comes flying off, Colon has shown off a youthful exuberance that certainly does not reflect the fact that he is 41 years of age. His recent performance also makes it hard to believe his age, as he is coming off a 2014 season that saw him pitch over 200 solid innings and is currently 4-1 with a 3.31 ERA in his first five starts for a surprisingly good New York Mets team.
8 LaTroy Hawkins, 42
Though he recently found his way onto the DL, the ageless Hawkins was still closing games for the Colorado Rockies at the beginning of the 2015 MLB season despite the fact that the 21-year veteran is 42 years old. Hawkins is coming off a 2014 season in which he was exceptional out of the bullpen for a bad Rockies team, pitching to a 3.31 ERA in 54.1 innings while compiling 23 saves. Of course, there is some recent history of closers remaining effective past the age of 40, as Mariano Rivera was still one of the best in the game when he retired at the age of 43 in 2013. Hawkins is certainly not on the level of Rivera, but the fact that he was still closing games in April of 2015 at 42 is still impressive.
7 Jaromir Jagr, 43
Jagr, the oldest active player in the NHL, now holds the honor of being the oldest to ever record a hat trick when he scored three goals against the Flyers earlier this season at the age of 42. He has since turned 43 and has said in the past that he intends to play until he is 50 years old despite having already competed in 21 NHL seasons with eight different franchises. Jagr, one of hockey’s all-time greats, has won the Art Ross Trophy on five different occasions, won the Hart Trophy in 1999 and has been named to the NHL All-Star First Team seven times during his illustrious pro career.
6 Dan Henderson, 44
As the oldest fighter in the UFC, Henderson has not exactly fared well of late. He has lost five of his last six fights, but has repeatedly stated he has no intention of retiring any time soon. The two-time Olympian has had quite a career in both wrestling and MMA, so it should come as no surprise that he has expressed defiance toward critics who believe it is time for him to retire. Henderson’s efforts in the octagon through his mid-40s are still impressive despite his lack of recent victories, and he remains one of the more popular figures in the world of MMA.
5 John Tavares, 46
Tavares, the uncle of the New York Islanders center of the same name, has been playing professional lacrosse since the time his nephew was still just a toddler. Beginning his career in 1992 with the Buffalo Bandits, Tavares has been with the team since its inception and is the career leader in points, goals and assists in the history of the NLL. At 46 years old, Tavares still plays for the Bandits in the NLL while also teaching Math at a secondary school in Ontario.
4 Kazuyoshi Miura, 48
Though he has scaled back his playing career quite a bit in recent years, the footballer known as “King Kazu” made four appearances with Yokohama FC this past season and has signed on for at least one more go-round this season. The 48-year-old Kazu has already made his presence felt, as he scored a goal on a header during Yokohama’s recent loss to Jubilo Iwata in second-division play. Even though he is nearing 50, Kazu still performed his trademark “Kazu Dance” in celebration of his score.
3 Bernard Hopkins, 50
After holding at least a piece of the World Middleweight Championship for more than a decade from the mid-90s through the early-aughts, Hopkins is still defending titles despite having fought his first professional boxing match in 1988. Hopkins has had an incredibly successful run as a boxer, and the fact that he was able to win the WBC Title at the age of 46, defend it at the age of 48, and then defend it again at the age of 49 is mind-boggling. In winning the title at 46 and then again at 48 and 49, Hopkins eclipsed George Foreman as the oldest fighter to ever win a world championship in boxing. He lost his most recent match in a title defense, but Hopkins has said he wants at least one more meaningful fight now that he has turned 50.
2 Julio Franco, 56
Franco last played in Major League Baseball in 2007, which is unbelievable considering he was 49 years old at the time and had already played in 23 seasons going back to 1982. At age 45 with the Atlanta Braves, Franco actually hit over .300 while posting a solid slash of .309/.378/.441 in 125 games. Even though his MLB career has been over for quite some time, the 56-year-old Franco is still playing professional baseball in Japan. As the player-manager of the Ishikawa Million Stars, Franco’s rookie season as a player-manager will mean that the right-handed slugger with the odd batting stance will have played professional baseball in five different decades going back to his time in the minors in 1978.
1 Gary Player, 79
At 79 years old, Gary Player is probably in better shape than the majority of people half his age. Famous for his fitness regimen, Player has said he still does 1,000 sit-ups per day except on days he has to travel. Though he is formally retired from professional golf, he still plays in the Annual Masters Par-Three Contest at Augusta National and he participates in the ceremonial tee-off at the Masters alongside fellow golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. During his time on the PGA Tour, Player won nine major championships, including three at the British Open and three at the Masters. Despite the fact that he is about to turn 80, Player still shoots in the mid-70s on a regular basis.