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Don Hatton, 65: Perseverance

Undeterred by what others may think is possible, Don Hatton, in midlife, realized his 30-year dream of racing in the Dakar Rally, a grueling off-road motorcycle race across the dunes and deserts of Africa. He discusses persevering after a near-deadly accident, the challenges of being an athlete in later life, and why “those of us over 50 are in the best stage of life.”

Age is not a deterrent.

Don has been holding the dream of racing in the famous Dakar Rally for over 40 years. 

It has often been said: just don’t quit. If one quits, that is when it ends; not quitting can lead to all manner of unexpected challenges, and new roads. There are, of course, times when we have to pull back — one of the definitions of surrender is to lay down arms and switch over to the winning side. With age, we are so often told to back off, to slow down, and that we are just not capable. There is an element of truth to this. We are no longer in our invincible 20s; however, most of what we hear can be ignored, as we are often far more capable than we have been led to believe.

Dan Hatton jumps in the air on his motorcycle

What is your age? 

Where do you live? 
I live in Duncan, BC, Canada, located on Vancouver Island.

What is the attraction of the Dakar Rally? 
As long as I can remember, I have been a bit of an adrenaline junkie. When I saw the Paris -Dakar Rally on TV in 1978 I was fascinated. The coverage showed motorcycles crossing the dunes and deserts in Africa. I knew I had to do that race. The Dakar is an incredible test of resilience and endurance. Whatever the reason it reached me, I knew I had to do it. Little did I know it would take me three decades to realize my dream.

If I could sum up the appeal of the Dakar in one word I would use “challenge.” I am on a motorcycle through the harshest, most desolate and challenging terrain on Earth. The race is 10 to 15 days of off-road, a test of physical and mental stamina. In every stage, you face insurmountable odds: sleep deprivation, food scarcity, and grueling hours on the motorcycle. There have been stages where I was on my bike for 18 hours, all while making navigating decisions at speed with only a compass and road book. 

“The Dakar has taught me the importance of organization, overcoming fear, and focus”

All the while, you are fighting your inner voice telling you to quit. Knowing that, were you to let that voice win and quit, not one person would question that decision. A decision that, at the age of 65, would be even easier to make. The race is a test of character. When you cross the line at the end of each stage, you have just completed something only a handful of people in the world have done. 

The Dakar has taught me the importance of organization, overcoming fear, and focus. I have learned that I can overcome anything I put my mind to.

Dan Hatton's SuperAger type is a Fox

How does your wife feel about your quest? 
Natalie has been very supportive; she has sacrificed a lot to follow my dreams. Natalie gets the credit for me entering the Dakar. 

I asked her your question and her response: being married to someone who does not let age be a deterrent is never boring. She is sometimes scared and worried for me.  Especially when I head out into each stage at 5:00 am and have not returned by late into the night.

Natalie has been with me through thick and thin, through business success and financial challenges. I am very blessed to have her at my side through all our life’s adventures.

Don Hatton joyfully playing with his grandkids
Don and his grandkids.

“To be recognized for my achievement in sports at 51 years old was very special”

Tell us about Athlete of the Year at age 51.
Becoming the Athlete of the Year at age 51 was an honor that I had not expected.

To be recognized for my achievement in sports at 51 years old was very special. It showed that age was not a barrier for success in sports. This award, for me, stands as a symbol of perseverance, sportsmanship, and the power of mental strength to rise above circumstances and defy expectations. It is a reminder that no matter where we are in life’s journey, we have the capacity to reinvent ourselves, to chase our dreams and to make an impact on our community through passion and determination. I have always hoped it would inspire others who may be harboring dreams. 

You almost died in Argentina in 2009. Why did you continue to race? 
Yes, in 2009, the Dakar taught me a lesson on ego. My teammates had started the stage an hour ahead of me; by halfway through the stage I had made up that hour and caught them. When I passed them, all I could think about was how much I was going to enjoy rubbing in that I not only caught and passed them but I had finished the stage so far ahead of them. I was so focused on beating them that I broke the cardinal rule of off-road rally: always stay on your road book. I quit looking at my road book which meant I was not aware of what was ahead. As a result, I hit a jump that I was not expecting at 140 km an hour. I soared 20 meters in height and over 30 meters in distance, hitting the ground with such an impact that I bruised my heart, lacerated my lungs, and had multiple broken ribs and internal bleeding.

“The Dakar had been a 30-year dream; I was not going to let the accident deter me from my dream”

Fortunately for me, my two teammates witnessed the crash and kept me alive. I was two hours unconscious on the course before being medevaced to a trauma center where I spent 7 days in intensive care. 

The Dakar had been a 30-year dream; I was not going to let the accident deter me from my dream. It took a long time to recover from my injuries. The accident occurred January 7th and I was not healed enough to ride a motorcycle until August. On my very first ride back, I lost my balance at a very slow speed, fell over, and broke my finger, requiring emergency surgery which delayed my return to riding by another 6 weeks. 

Are there other people your age who compete in off-road racing? 
When I began racing off-road motorcycle rallies at age 50, I was normally the oldest rider in the race. It has not changed much today. I am still normally the oldest rider in the race. However, there has been a change in that in the generation behind me. In the smaller local races, there are now more riders in their late 50s participating.  

I just completed round three of the World Championship. I was the oldest rider in the race and, on my team, I was at least 25 years older than my teammates. I like having younger teammates; they bring excitement and energy to the team. I feel I am a good compromise; I bring calm and wisdom.

Don Hatton running a marathon

“Whether racing, business, or love, those of us over 50 are in the best stage of life”

What are your thoughts on retirement? 
My thoughts on retirement — I don’t really put a lot of thought into it. I have friends who are retired. By retired I mean that they are no longer going to where they had previously worked and have taken up volunteering at a charitable organization, expanded their hobbies, or have done a career change and downgraded their careers. 

However, I also have friends who are literally waiting to die; the dark side of retirement. For them, retirement involves signing out of life. Their only contact with the world comes from the television news. They spend their days not doing much. They have become cynical, bitter, and ill.  

No one has a crystal ball. A twist in fate and I may fall into one of the above; however, at this time, none of those options appeal to me.

My preference is to stay focused on training, competition, business, and family. I love my life, I am still in very good condition, and I still enjoy everything I do. Whether racing, business, or love, those of us over 50 are in the best stage of life. Wisdom allows us the ability to not panic when challenged because likely we have experienced it before. We know there is always a solution.

What is your fitness routine? 
My fitness routine varies week to week, and can vary even more if I am recovering from an injury.

Some weeks I will have four strength sessions, two to three mobility sessions, and two to three cardio days.

I try to do all my long cardio sessions on weekends; my shorter sessions will be on weekdays between strength days. My cardio includes running, rowing on a rowing Erg, mountain biking, and off-road motorcycle riding.

What are your thoughts on aging? 
Aging is real; as far as I know, there is no cure for aging. If there is, it has not reached my level. That said, our bodies are amazingly resilient; we might not be able to prevent aging but we sure can slow it down. 

I will caution you that slowing down aging does not mean your body on the outside does not show its years. I hate mirrors because they don’t show the real person; the reflection is not the person I feel I am. However, inside, where it is not visible, is where the aging slow-down really shows. 

If you take care of your body and your mind, the results are nothing short of amazing.

“If you take care of your body and your mind, the results are nothing short of amazing”

What are the challenges of being an athlete your age? 
I would say the biggest challenge is that motivation must come 100% from within yourself. There is not a lot of external support.

I will use the Dakar as an example. A young athlete competing in the Dakar receives nothing but encouragement. Everyone they tell their goals will encourage them. People will say good for you, keep trying, keep training, you will get there. 

For an older athlete, especially an athlete in his mid-60s, the reaction is completely opposite that of a younger athlete. When you tell people you are training for the Dakar, they look at you and say, “Are you nuts?” 

It is harder to get a coach who takes you seriously; the elite trainers don’t want to risk their reputation on you. If they do agree to train you, they modify their program to a range they feel is suitable for an old person and not for an elite athlete. They don’t push you like they should. 

When it comes to the actual race, the shock on the team members’ faces at my age is very apparent. They treat me like their grandfather at first. However, after a few days, this all changes and when they realize I am for real and am capable of competing at this level, I quite often get treated with much respect.

It is also on me to pay attention to my body, I have to know when I am pushing too hard. When something does not feel right, I need to have it treated before it becomes serious. At 65, it takes a long time to get back into elite level fitness; it is not like a twenty- or thirty-year-old who can bounce back in a few weeks.

Sleep and diet are very important when training at this level at age sixty-five.

What inspires you?
I get my inspiration from stories about people who have overcome obstacles to achieve amazing success. 

What are the 3 non-negotiables in your life?
That is tough as I am flexible about things in life.

I will not associate with negative people. 

I am very careful who I take advice from.

Always be honest and tell the truth; a lie will catch you. The beauty of the truth is: good or bad, once it is spoken it is over; you can go on with your life. A lie haunts you forever.

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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.


David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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