Tom Brady, #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. looks on during pregame warm-ups prior to the start of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 11, 2022 in Santa Clara, California.

26 athletes who competed into their 40s

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February 1, 2023
Thearon W. Henderson // Getty Images

26 athletes who competed into their 40s

Humans reach their physical peak in their mid-20s, with maximum physical strength and muscle mass continuing for the next 10 to 15 years. After that, the long and gradually steepening performance curve heads in the other direction. But some athletes—including a high proportion of the very best—seem to stop the aging process in its tracks, performing at an elite level well into their 30s, 40s, or even 50s.

Tom "the GOAT" Brady competed 23 seasons before the three-time MVP announced his official retirement from the NFL (for a second time) at 45 in February 2023. Satchel Paige remarkably played Major League Baseball until he was 59. But most, taking full advantage of advances in training and sports medicine, played well into this century or are still active today. These include some of the biggest names in sports: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in golf and, of course, the Williams sisters, tennis stars Venus and Serena, albeit the latter has decided to "evolve away" from the sport since August 2022.

Stacker dug deep on stat sites like Stathead and Olympedia to showcase the 25 best in chronological order. We found there are only five active MLB players and—following Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth's retirements—only four active NFL players over 40 headed in the 2022 season: offensive tackle Jason Peters, punters Dustin Colquitt and Andy Lee, and Tom Brady.

Looking for inspiration to stay fit and competitive as you age? Check out our list.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias in a sideways pose after putting
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Babe Didrikson Zaharias

- Sport: Golf
- Years active: 1947-1955
- Age at retirement: 43

There was another "Babe" besides "Babe" Ruth thriving in the sports world in the 20th century.

Ruth's nickname was "the Sultan of Swat," but Zaharias (nickname: "the Babe") could also swat a ball a long way—a golf ball, that is. While Ruth famously starred as a pitcher and home-run hitter, Zaharias was even more versatile. 

Zaharias won track-and-field gold medals at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and proved herself as a dominant women's baseball and basketball player. But the native Texan left her biggest mark in golf as she was a co-founder and longtime star on the LPGA circuit. She won her 41st and final LPGA title in 1955 at age 43. She might have won many more, but colon cancer ended her unparalleled sports career: She died in 1956.

Grover Cleveland Alexander and Satchel Paige on the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium
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Satchel Paige

- Sport: Baseball
- Years active: 1926-1965
- Age at retirement: 59

You've more likely heard of Satchel for the things he said than what he did. Baseball writers loved to print remarks attributed to him, such as "Don't look back; something might be gaining on you" and "Dance like nobody's watching." But he also had a great career (2.70 lifetime ERA) as a pitcher who played across an astonishing five decades.

After 22 years in the Negro Leagues, he was finally signed by an MLB team, the Cleveland Indians, at age 42—one year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Paige then played in the Majors over 17 years for the Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Kansas City Athletics—almost playing to age 60.

George Blanda and Daryle Lamonica from the sidelines
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Focus On Sport // Getty Images

George Blanda

- Sport: Football
- Years active: 1949-1975
- Age at retirement: 48

Two years before Tom Brady was born, Blanda showed that it's possible to play and even star in the NFL long past the age of 40. Like Brady, Blanda did it as a quarterback, although he spent his last nine seasons with the Oakland Raiders as a placekicker and backup QB.

Age didn't diminish Blanda's skills too much, as he led the Raiders to four game-winning drives as a QB in his 40s. Blanda also made two 49-yard field goals after age 45. Before finishing his career in Oakland, he also played for Chicago and Houston.

Gordie Howe poses for a portrait in 1980
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Gordie Howe

- Sport: Hockey
- Years active: 1946-1980
- Age at retirement: 52

Most hockey players would be happy to hang up their skates after 25 seasons in the NHL. But Howe—after playing his entire career for the Detroit Red Wings and leading them to four Stanley Cup titles—loved the game so much that he lasted another seven seasons, mostly for World Hockey Association teams, where he played alongside two sons.

Howe finally left the game with more NHL goals scored at 801 than anyone—until another legend, Wayne Gretzky, topped this mark. Howe still holds the record for the most seasons played in professional hockey. The Canadian right wing—who earned the nickname "Mr. Hockey"— is considered by many to be the greatest all-around player in history.

Pete Rose from the playing field
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Pete Rose

- Sport: Baseball
- Years active: 1963-1986
- Age at retirement: 45

It's too bad Pete Rose is best known for being banned from baseball for betting on games, as he's one of the sport's all-time best hitters and fielders and played well into his 40s. There are no holes in his baseball resume. The switch hitter nicknamed "Charlie Hustle" helped lead the Cincinnati Reds to four World Series (winning two) in the 1970s on the strength of his bat, as well as his glove.

Rose stands as the all-time hits leader, with 4,256, and played the most games at 3,562. He earned two Golden Gloves as an outfielder after spending much of his career in the infield. He's also the only player to be named to All-Star teams at five infield and outfield positions. He went on to be the Reds' player-manager—the last MLB player to take on that challenging dual role—before the betting controversy ended his affiliation with baseball.

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Nolan Ryan throws a pitch during a game
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Robert Riger // Getty Images

Nolan Ryan

- Sport: Baseball
- Years active: 1966-1993
- Age at retirement: 46

Ryan's baseball career spanned four decades of playing for four teams: the Mets, Angels, Astros, and Rangers. But he's better known for reasons other than his longevity in the sport. First, he was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history and the greatest strikeout pitcher ever, fanning 5,714 batters. On the strength of a consistent 100-mph fastball, even late in his career, he also threw seven no-hitters—three more than any player before or since.

Second, because Ryan's late-career success dovetailed with the steroid era in baseball, rumors have swirled about whether his stats were "juiced," though he publicly criticized the use of steroids by players in the years after his retirement.

Third, Nolan Ryan is known among Texas Rangers fans for an iconic moment in franchise history on Aug. 4, 1993, when the Chicago White Sox batter Robin Ventura took exception to an inside pitch by Ryan and charged the mound. Ryan put the third baseman—who was 20 years his junior—into a headlock. Both teams cleared the dugouts onto the field as umpires stopped the fight. Ventura was ejected, Ryan was not, and the Rangers won 5-2. Ventura had a successful career and went on to manage the White Sox.

Robert Parish during a Knicks vs. Boston game
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Robert Parish

- Sport: Basketball
- Years active: 1976-1997
- Age at retirement: 43

Golfers, football placekickers, and baseball pitchers all rely on skill rather than power, so it makes sense that some can perform as professionals well into their 40s or even 50s. But basketball combines both skill and speed—and often leads to career-ending knee, hip, and back injuries—so Parish's durability is particularly impressive.

Parish played in the NBA for 21 seasons for four teams—the Warriors, Celtics, Hornets, and Bulls. Only Vince Carter played more seasons at 22 years, but Carter and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar both trail Parish's NBA-record 1611 games played. The 7-foot-1 center was a great rebounder and defender, though he also averaged more than 15 points per game for most of his career. In his prime, he helped lead the Celtics to three NBA titles.

George Foreman walks to his corner during a fight
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The Ring Magazine // Getty Images

George Foreman

- Sport: Boxing
- Years active: 1968-1997
- Age at retirement: 48

Film critics thought the movie "Rocky Balboa"—of the "Rocky" film franchise—was a little ridiculous for casting Sylvester Stallone in the role of an aging boxer who comes out of retirement, as Stallone was nearly 60 when that movie was shot. But Foreman showed that boxing well beyond the age of 40 is possible in real life.

Although he won 76 fights after claiming the 1968 Olympic gold as an amateur, including a heavyweight title match against Joe Frazier. Foreman is best known for one of his five losses: the epic "Rumble in the Jungle" against Muhammad Ali. After that and a 10-year break from the ring, he made a comeback at age 38 that lasted 10 years and only featured three losses. Foreman's eponymously endorsed grills earned him more than his lifetime in boxing.

Warren Moon with the ball during a game
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Stephen Dunn // Getty Images

Warren Moon

- Sport: Football
- Years active: 1978-2000
- Age at retirement: 44

Moon was a trailblazer. He was not only among the first African-Americans to star in the NFL as a quarterback but also among the few undrafted players admitted to the Hall of Fame. Despite being named MVP of the 1978 Rose Bowl, his failure to be drafted by an NFL team led Moon to spend six years starring for the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League.. Only then was he signed by the Houston Oilers, where he hit his stride with 4,689 and 4,690 yards in the 1989 and 1990 seasons, respectively.

He played for three more NFL teams in his final seven seasons: the Vikings, Seahawks, and Chiefs.

Rickey Henderson swings at the ball during a game
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Rich Pilling // Getty Images

Rickey Henderson

- Sport: Baseball
- Years active: 1979-2003
- Age at retirement: 44

Run, Rickey, run!

Even in his prime, the most accomplished base-stealer of all time might not have had a chance in a 100-meter race against Usain Bolt. But he mastered the art of sprinting the 30 yards between bases so well that he got away with an all-time-record 1,406 base thefts.

Henderson's raw speed and longevity over 25 seasons also helped him get another MLB record—2,295 runs scored—and his power at the plate helped him secure the all-time mark for leadoff homers with 81. He played for the Oakland A's four different times, totaling 14 years, but also played for seven other MLB teams.

Jerry Rice poses for his 2005 NFL headshot
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NFL Photos // Getty Images

Jerry Rice

- Sport: Football
- Years active: 1985-2005
- Age at retirement: 42

Rice loved to coax his San Francisco 49ers teammates into joining him on runs up a long, steep hill on a trail near his home—one small part of a fitness regimen that helped him last in the NFL well into his 40s in a position known for taking big hits and injuries. But Rice was not only a football player; he was the greatest ball-catcher ever to play the game.

Paired with Hall of Famer quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young with the 49ers, he helped lead the Niners to three Super Bowl crowns and earned Pro Bowl honors 13 times. Rice managed 100-plus receiving yard games an NFL-record 76 times. He has the NFL records for most receptions with 1,549, the most receiving yards at 22,895, and the pinnacle of receiving touchdowns at 197. He rounded out his career with stints at Oakland and Seattle.

Jack Nicklaus hits a bunker shot
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Stan Badz // Getty Images

Jack Nicklaus

- Sport: Golf
- Years active: 1961-2005
- Age at retirement: 65

Professional accountants retire at 65. But professional athletes? They're lucky to make it to 35. If you don't think it's possible for any professional athlete—even a golfer—to compete until they reach the age of Social Security eligibility, you don't know Jack.

Nicklaus won 17 majors, which even Tiger Woods hasn't been able to equal. Nicklaus' 73 PGA Tour wins trail only Tiger and Sam Snead.

Martina Navratilova backhands a ball
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Jason Koerner // Getty Images

Martina Navratilova

- Sport: Tennis
- Years active: 1973-2006
- Age at retirement: 49

Tennis fans keep expecting 41-year-old Roger Federer to announce his retirement, but the Swiss ace hasn't quit yet. Time will tell if he can hold up as well as Navratilova, who kept playing throughout her 40s.

The dual citizen of the U.S. and her native Czech Republic has won nine titles at the sport's most prestigious tournament, Wimbledon; only Federer and Helen Wills Moody have come close, each winning eight. She went out in style, too, winning her last major title—the doubles crown at the U.S. Open—one month shy of her 50th birthday.

Morten Anderson kicks a field goal
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Focus On Sport // Getty Images

Morten Andersen

- Sport: Football
- Years active: 1982-2007
- Age at retirement: 47

As a placekicker, Andersen didn't miss—or at least it didn't seem like he ever did. Especially when he nailed the 38-yard kick that sent the Falcons to their first Super Bowl in 1998. The Danish-American kicked, kicked, and kicked again through the uprights far into his 40s for five different teams, mostly for NFC South rivals New Orleans and Atlanta.

He earned the nickname "Mr. Automatic" by converting a remarkable 98.8% of point-after attempts and made 79.7 percent of his field-goal attempts, including a 60-yarder. Andersen ranks first all-time in the NFL for regular-season games played at 382. He's ranked second for field goals made with 565 and points scored with 2,544.

Dikembe Mutombo looks on against a game
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Lisa Blumenfeld // Getty Images

Dikembe Mutombo

- Sport: Basketball
- Years active: 1991-2009
- Age at retirement: 42

Mutombo's basketball career was as long as he is tall, standing 7-foot-2. His height was a big help in making him one of the best shot-blockers in NBA history and in earning him NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors four times.

A Democratic Republic of the Congo native—who starred at Georgetown before making it big as an NBA center—Mutombo played for six NBA teams. He spent his first five years in Denver and the last five years of his career playing for Houston.

Only fellow Hall of Famer and 7-footer Hakeem Olajuwon has more shot blocks than Mutombo's 3,256. Originally planning to be a doctor, he spent $18.5 million of his own money to build a hospital in the DRC.

Randy Johnson pitches during a Spring Training game
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Lisa Blumenfeld // Getty Images

Randy Johnson

- Sport: Baseball
- Years active: 1988-2009
- Age at retirement: 46

When batters stepped up to the plate against the 6-foot-10 Johnson, they had to be wishing he'd stuck to basketball, which Johnson played as a starter at USC. Delivering 100-mph fastballs from an unusual partial-sidearm delivery made his pitches so tough to hit that he led the league in strikeouts an amazing 10 times. And Johnson's longevity, playing past his 45th birthday, helped him notch the second-most MLB strikeouts with 4,875—trailing only Nolan Ryan.

Among seven MLB stops, he spent the longest stint of his career in the Pacific Northwest, with nine years in Seattle. Johnson finished his career in San Francisco, not far from where he grew up.

Chris Chelios carries the puck against the New Jersey Devils
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Scott Cunningham // Getty Images

Chris Chelios

- Sport: Hockey
- Years active: 1984-2010
- Age at retirement: 48

Partly because he played for so many seasons in the NHL, Chelios has the record for most games played by a defenseman with 1,651 and the most playoff games played by any player at 266. He tops the latter category thanks to being on some great teams, including the 1986 Montreal Canadiens and 2002 and 2008 Detroit Red Wings teams that won the Stanley Cup.

Perhaps his finest hour was playing for Chicago, his second of four teams. For the Blackhawks, he scored the only two winning overtime goals of his career just two days apart versus the Canucks.

Dara Torres celebrates during the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials
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Jamie Squire // Getty Images

Dara Torres

- Sport: Swimming
- Years active: 1984-2012
- Age at retirement: 45

Most Olympic swimmers are in their 20s or even teens. In this sport, you're considered "old" at 30. So, Torres' ability to compete for a talented Team USA in the 2008 Olympics after turning 40 turned more heads than a tennis match.

If you're thinking she must have been a long-distance swimmer (because they don't require the strength and speed of sprinters)—think again! Torres won three silver medals at the 2008 Games—completing her collection of 12 medals from five Olympiads that included a silver in the 50 meters and two more in sprint relays.

Jamie Moyer of the Colorado Rockies pitching
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Doug Pensinger // Getty Images

Jamie Moyer

- Sport: Baseball
- Years active: 1986-2012
- Age at retirement: 49

It's hard to decide which stat is most impressive in Moyer's long career with eight different MLB teams, mostly with Seattle and Philadelphia. Is it his retirement at an older age than any MLB player before him? Or his having the most wins and strikeouts of any pitcher at the time? Or, on the flip side, having more losses and giving up more home runs than any previous pitcher?

Whichever way you look at it, Moyer made millions of fans happy—or sad—over the course of his long career, which ended with a very respectable career 4.25 ERA.

Oksana Chusovitina on the beam during the Olympics
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THOMAS COEX // Getty Images

Oksana Chusovitina

- Sport: Gymnastics
- Years active: 1992-2021
- Age at retirement: 46

There may be no other sport so dominated by young athletes than gymnastics, where teenage champions are the norm—especially among young women. So, the idea of a gymnast competing well into her 40s may sound absurd. Yet that's exactly what Chusovitina did, competing in an unbelievable eight Olympic Games right up until Tokyo in 2021.

Almost as unusual for a gymnast is that she represented multiple countries—the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, and Germany. She is talented, too, with two Olympic medals earned 16 years apart; and 11 World Championships medals. All were earned in her specialty—the vault.

Venus Williams celebrates a victory
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Graham Denholm // Getty Images

Venus Williams

- Sport: Tennis
- Years active: 1994-present
- Age at retirement: Still active (age 42)

"King Richard" focused on the rise of Venus from her days as a teen prodigy on the courts of Compton, California. That film ended with her first professional match. Venus became an enduring tennis star and still is today, even though Serena's older sister has blown out 42 candles.

Even as the success of her younger sister eclipsed her, Venus has chalked up seven Grand Slam titles—including five Wimbledon crowns—and four Olympic gold medals. Off the courts, she successfully fought for equal pay at Wimbledon and now fights for equal pay for women from all walks of life.

Tom Brady on the sideline during the first quarter of a game
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Harry How // Getty Images

Tom Brady

- Sport: Football
- Years active: 2000-2023
- Age at retirement: 45

Brady is considered "the GOAT" (greatest of all time) among NFL quarterbacks. He has cemented that status year after year, well into his 40s, and seemingly couldn't get enough as he announced he would continue to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 40 days after saying he was retiring in February 2022. And why not? Brady has continued to play at an elite level, taking the Bucs to the second round of the playoffs in January.

After an enduring 23 seasons, Brady declared his official retirement from the game in February 2023, promising to put down the pigskin "for good" this time. "Thank you guys for allowing me to live my absolute dream," Brady said in a video. "I wouldn't change a thing."

Looking back, Brady's career stats are mind-numbing. He already owns the records for passing touchdowns with 624, and he dominates completions at 7,263 and passing yards with 84,520. Brady has 47 playoff starts and, of course, seven signature Super Bowl rings.

Tiger Woods celebrates with the Masters Trophy
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Andrew Redington // Getty Images

Tiger Woods

- Sport: Golf
- Years active: 1996-present
- Age at retirement: Still active (age 47)

Few, if any, athletes active today have so thoroughly dominated their sport as Tiger has in golf—a sport where even the greats are routinely humbled. Golf fans marveled at his ability to win one major tournament after another—14 "majors" titles from 1997 to 2008—and then one more after a decade of slumps and injuries at the prestigious Masters in 2019.

Arguably even more impressive than that comeback is his current streak—not because he's north of 45 years old but because doctors thought he would never be the same after a catastrophic rollover crash he suffered in February 2021. Remarkably, Tiger played well enough at the Masters in April 2022 to make the cut, suggesting that he still has a shot at winning more major tournaments.

Jaromir Jagr of the Calgary Flames looks on during the second period of a game
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Sean M. Haffey // Getty Images

Jaromír Jágr

- Sport: Hockey
- Years active: 1990-present
- Age at retirement: Still Active (age 50)

Ice hockey can be a brutal sport—just ask any Canadian dentist. You'd think that an NHL star like Jágr—regarded as one of the sport's best while playing for nine NHL teams—would be happy to retire his hockey stick and get the puck out while in his 30s. Instead, he moved back to his native Czech Republic to play right wing for the Czech hockey league team where he got his start, HC Kladno. He is also the owner of the team, so who's going to say he can't? Jágr was the NHL's leading scorer in five seasons between 1995 and 2001.

Phil Mickelson tees off a hole
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Oisin Keniry // Getty Images

Phil Mickelson

- Sport: Golf
- Years active: 1992-present
- Age at retirement: Still active (age 52)

He's often been in the shadow of PGA contemporary Tiger Woods, but Mickelson has not suffered through the major injuries and surgeries that Tiger has endured. That has allowed him to play with enough consistency to win 45 PGA tournaments and three of the four "majors"—all but the U.S. Open, where he has placed second a record six times.

At the 2021 PGA Championships, Mickelson became the oldest golfer to win a "major" at 50 years and 11 months old. His reputation took a hit in 2022 when he lost several sponsors due to his backing of a new Saudi-backed golf league.

Serena Williams holds a tennis racquet over her head at the 2021 French Open Tennis Tournament.
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Mustafa Yalcin // Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Serena Williams

- Sport: Tennis
- Years active: 1995-present
- Age at retirement: Still active (age 41)

Like Tiger and LeBron, Serena Williams is such a force in her sport that she's often referred to by only her first name. You could say the same about her older sister, Venus, but Serena has accomplished more in tennis and has become an even bigger celebrity. Her record at Grand Slam tournaments is almost unmatched: seven Wimbledon titles, seven Australian Open titles, six U.S. Open wins, and three French Open wins. Those 23 titles are exceeded only by Margaret Court's 24, but Court played in a less competitive era in women's tennis in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Serena became the first woman to make a Grand Slam semifinal in four different decades at the 2020 U.S. Open, but injuries hampered her play in recent years. Though she bowed out of Wimbledon in 2021 due to a leg injury in the first round, she returned for the 2022 competition and for the 2022 U.S. Open, which marked her final professional appearance. "It's been a fun ride," she said through tears after losing in the third round.

Despite previous reports of her presumed retirement from tennis following the U.S. Open in August 2022, Serena clarified at a conference in San Francisco the following October that she's "not retired" and that her chances of returning to the court are "very high." 

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