When my last job evaporated through funding cuts, I had a choice: compete in a recession job market at the age of 66 or retire and move on into the next phase of my journey. But what did that “next phase” look like? I had no idea. What would I do with myself after 13,000 days of showering, dressing and going to work? How would I keep my brain and my body active? I responded in my usual manner and freaked out.
One morning I caught a video interview with Diana Nyad, who at 64 years old became the first person to swim the 110 miles from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida. Being of a much more sedentary nature, I was impressed by the woman’s accomplishment but hardly inspired until she talked about the panic that gripped her when she turned 60 and imagined what lay ahead for her as an aging athlete. “Then I remembered the dream I had when I was 30 that I would one day swim from Cuba to Florida, and I knew I could still make that dream happen…We should never give up…You are never too old to chase your dreams.”
There was Diana’s gift to me, “…you are never too old to chase your dreams.” For three-quarters of my life I wanted to rub words together but never sat down and wrote. The once dreaded “next phase” of my journey would now be dedicated to making that dream come true. Following are the stories of four tenacious women, crone-sisters, who had dreams and followed them, three into their 90’s. Their words encourage us to believe, with them, that anything is possible if we dream and believe and try.
What is your dream?
Run a Marathon? Lace up your tennis shoes, don some cute running shorts and match strides with Gladys “The Gladyator” Burrill who completed the 26-mile 2010 Honolulu Marathon in 9 hours and 53 minutes at the still young age of 92 years, making her the oldest person ever to cross the finish line. The Gladyator ran her first marathon when she was still a spring chicken of 86 and regularly walks 45 miles a week.
Gladys’s Cheer: Just get out there and walk or run. It’s so important to think positive. It’s easy to get discouraged and be negative.
Get a College Degree? How About Two? All we need to walk beside this lady is a dream we never let fade. At the age of 95, Nola Ochs became the world’s oldest college graduate then broke that record at the age of 98 by becoming the oldest recipient of a Master’s Degree. Nora took her first college class when she was 19 years old. At the age of 61, after raising four sons on a family farm, she took several more courses and dreamed of being a storyteller on a cruise ship when she graduated. Both dreams were realized when Princess Cruises hired her as a guest lecturer on a nine-day Caribbean cruise immediately upon her graduation. Nora currently serves as a graduate teaching assistant in the history department at Fort Hays State University while working toward a second Master’s.
Nola’s Cheer: I’m not doing anything but what a lot of people have done, except I’m old, though I don’t keep track of my age.
Sail Around the World – By Yourself? Soften up your deck shoes, grab a case of sunscreen, buy a couple of sun hats and climb aboard the 38 ft. yacht Nereida (Sea Nymph) on which Jeanne Socrates, aged 70 years, former math teacher and and grandmother of three from West London, circumnavigated the world non-stop and alone. The journey, which went from Victoria, Canada, around Argentina, across the southern Atlantic Ocean, around the capes of South Africa and Australia then up to the north Pacific and back to Victoria covered 25,000 mils and took 259 days. Jeanne first learned to sail at the age of 58.
Jeanne’s Cheer: As soon as you mention your age to other people, they get very ageist. They classify you and put you in a pocket as being old and no good. But we shouldn’t be – we are no different as people.
Write a Novel? Guess what? All we need is a pencil and a notebook and we can all be Lorna Page, who at age 90 wrote her first novel in a nursing home in Surrey, England. Pushed by her daughter-in-law to pursue publication of A Dangerous Weakness, Lorna became the oldest published debut writer on record at the age of 93. Suddenly prosperous from the advance and sales of her feminist and often raunchy thriller set in the Swiss Alps, Page traded her one-bedroom flat in the Surrey nursing home for a five-bedroom country house and has invited contemporaries to move in with her.
Lorna’s Cheer: I thought it would be lovely to give a home and family life to people who would otherwise be sitting around in care homes. Now every book that sells will help towards making a home for someone.
STAY TUNED . . .
Uncle Google continues to uncover more women warriors to share with us, so you’ll probably see a We Are Never Too Old, Part II in the upcoming months. Maybe someday one or all of us will have a place in that gallery.