This wasn't going to be a fair fight. Everyone knew that going in.
On one side was Dan Durante, trim and fit, but seven decades on in life. On the other, about 20 members of the Liberty High School football team in Bealeton, Va., and 10 cheerleaders, all in fine shape and more than 50 years younger. This one had mismatch written all over it.
Yes, Durante crushed them.
The contest was to see who could do the most pull-ups, an exercise Durante practices every day and the kids do not. At home, on his own pull-up bar, he routinely does more than 50 in less than 60 seconds.
"There's life after 20," he told the teenagers as they gathered in the high school weight room for the friendly competition. Pull-ups, he said, are a "very specific exercise. If you don't do it, you won't be able to do a lot of them" today. "But it says what you can do."
Indeed, it says what we all can do. Fewer than 15 percent of people age 65 and older do any regular strength training at a time in life when it is especially critical. Sarcopenia, the natural decline in muscle mass that occurs as we age, and accompanying problems, such as osteoporosis, falls, obesity and difficulty climbing stairs, can be held at bay long into old age by simple weight-bearing exercises, experts say.
None of that was on anyone's mind that day. The pull-up challenge Durante issued to the teens was a fundraiser. For every pull-up (palms facing outward) or chin-up (palms in) they could do, he would contribute a dollar to the football team, which needs more than $15,000 every year for equipment and travel costs that the school doesn't cover. The top boy and girl would each earn $200 for the team. And if any of them could get within 10 pull-ups of Durante's total, he'd pay $10 per pull-up.
"This is all Dan's idea. This is something he wanted to do for the team," head football coach Sean Finnerty told the group of parents and teens in the weight room.
Durante, he said, had come to every football game, cheering as Liberty won its conference championship and made it to the second round of the playoffs.
"If he can do this at age 70, what can you do as high school kids by pushing yourselves?" he asked.
Finnerty is also Durante's stepson-in-law. The two hatched the fundraiser idea after a barbecue one day. The first one, in March, raised more than $900. This time, unfortunately for the kids, Durante had more time to train.
As a teenager in Quincy, Mass., Durante did pull-ups to rehab a shoulder injured playing sandlot football, and he never stopped. Now a master's sprinter, he ramped up his pull-up training when a knee injury recently halted his training. The knee is better now, and Durante said he hopes to compete in 2014 national and world meets in the 60-meter dash. He also has reserved a booth at the NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo in January, where he will offer $500 to anyone, of any age, who can beat him.
He went first during the teen challenge, recording 39 pull-ups in 53 seconds before he exhausted his arms. The pull-up bar at Liberty had a bit of sway in it, he said, reducing his total.
Up first for the football team was … no one. Like rockers refusing to follow Jimi Hendrix on stage, no one was willing to be the first after Durante.
"Don't make me pick," Finnerty said.
Middle linebacker Matt Nailor eventually stepped up and did 18. Keith Miller did 9. Daniel Jackson did 16. Tailback Brent Smith clocked 20, and Anthony Spagnoletti, a receiver and safety, did 21.
A couple of 300-pound linemen did one each before Kevin Nailor, Matt's twin brother, achieved the team high at 26.
On a lower bar, 14-year-old Haileigh Hurst topped nine other cheerleaders with seven chin-ups.
The event raised $613 for the football team. And Durante promised more.
"A year from now, I'll be back," he said. "I expect you to challenge me. At least get within 10."