Muay Thai at 82
For Richard Seals’ 82nd birthday in October, his grandchildren gave him a new pair of Hayabusa boxing gloves, and so far they’ve seen a lot of use. Richard has been a member at Easton Training Center Boulder since June 2018, and you can find him on the mat three to four days a week, attending both Kickboxing and Muay Thai Fundamentals classes.
I met Richard on his first day in the academy. It was a bright, sunny afternoon, in the quiet lull between noon classes and kids’ classes. The door opened, and in walked an older man with white hair, a tidy white goatee, and a warm smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. We introduced ourselves, and he told me his grandson does Muay Thai at Easton in Centennial, and he was interested in trying it out for himself. We took the grand tour of the academy, chatting about the kickboxing program and the structure of the classes.
To be honest, as we talked that first day, I was a bit doubtful that he’d like it. But I encouraged him to come see a class, and decide if it was what he was looking for. He said he’d most likely come the next day to watch. As we said goodbye, he paused. “In these classes…are there any old guys like me?” I hesitated for a second, unsure of how to answer. “There are some older people. We definitely have a handful of grandparents training here. Come watch class, and see what you think.”
I shouldn’t have worried. The next day Richard was back, and instead of just watching, he took his first Kickboxing class. He officially joined the academy the next day, and quickly became a regular. He recently earned his Orange Shirt in Muay Thai. Over the last six months, he and I have often been partners in kickboxing class, and I’ve developed a deep admiration and respect for him.
An Ideal Student
Richard arrives extra early for each class. By his clock, being 15 minutes early is late. He’s warm and cheerful, and eager to learn. That kind of attitude is infectious and inspiring—he’s the kind of person you want to be around, and want to emulate. Though his demeanor is sunny, I can tell that he’s tough on himself, too. He holds himself to a high standard, and is serious about improving his technique. When we had lunch together to talk about this article, he told me, “I’ve never done something before where I’m the slowest in the class. It grates on me.”
Maybe that’s why in class, he’s never one to quit or take the easy way out. He keeps moving, and keeps challenging himself, even when the going gets tough. And as anyone who’s taken Coach Terrence’s classes knows, the going gets very tough. Those classes put young college students on their butts. But Richard is in there working hard with the best of them.
His philosophy of learning is systematic, probably due to years of working in quality control in his 20s. “You figure out where the weakness is, and find ways to fix the problem. Adjust the system,” he explains. One week he was struggling to keep his balance during round kicks, so Richard went home and dedicated himself to balancing exercises. The next week, he was back at it, clearly improved. He says he also watches a lot of Muay Thai videos on YouTube.
Life Before Easton
As my boyfriend pointed out, if someone takes up Muay Thai at the age of 81, that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. That person’s been doing cool stuff their whole life. And he was right. Richard is quite the renaissance man. He was raised in Tulsa, OK, and spent time in the National Guard in New Jersey, where he had a roommate who had a pilot’s license. One day Richard got him to take him on a flight, and that day sparked a lifelong passion for flying.
For several years after that, he worked on systems for the Titan and Saturn missiles, and had a stint as head of quality control at a flight simulator company. But during the Vietnam War, the US had a domestic pilot shortage, so Richard began pursuing his passion in earnest. For a while he went to flight school in the daytime, while he worked the night shift at a missile company. Once he was licensed, he got a part-time job teaching flying lessons. Before long, he quit missile work to teach flying full time. By the age of 29, he’d joined Delta Airlines as a commercial pilot. He had a long career with Delta, where he eventually flew the long hauls to places like Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Retired, and Busy as Ever
Now that he’s retired, Richard has time for a number of hobbies. He loves to barbecue, and we sometimes chat about what he’s planning to make for a big event with the family. Richard and his wife of 57 years (whom he affectionately calls “my bride”) have three daughters and two grandchildren. He belongs to a motorcycle club and rides a custom Harley Davidson that he designed himself. Five years ago, he took up competition pistol shooting, and often spends a Saturday shooting timed paper targets. And on the weekdays when he isn’t at Easton doing Muay Thai, he’s playing pickleball, a sport similar to tennis.
The Many Benefits of Muay Thai
So why take up Muay Thai on top of all that? After a bypass surgery several years ago, his doctor told him to incorporate more cardio workouts into his routine. But besides pickleball, nothing had stuck. He’d been to Easton Centennial to watch his teenage grandson’s classes, and that piqued his interest. “The trick is to find something that you really like doing,” he says. “There are a lot of things I could do for my cardio, but Kickboxing just strikes my fancy. Walking on the treadmill is like sticking a pencil in your eye.”
Kickboxing classes are exciting, he says. They help him relieve stress and tension. He’s lost weight and improved his health. And his training has boosted his self-esteem. Getting older “you feel like bait,” he tells me. Older people can look like an easy target for those looking to take advantage. But learning self-defense skills have helped him to feel more self-sufficient. Between his solid punches and his sharp shooting, Richard is certainly not a grandpa you want to mess with.