This I Believe

Joan - San Francisco, California
Entered on September 7, 2007
Age Group: 65+

This I believe, growing old is a participatory sport. I grew up as a tomboy and played all the New York City street games. In the schoolyard my reputation as a tough handball player was legendary. Playing punch ball I could hit beyond two sewers! My father only had two daughters, but I was his first born son.

Recently, I celebrated my 70th birthday. Now I feel the aging years. My health is excellent and recovery from injury and sickness is always rapid. Unquestionably I am healthier than most of my contemporaries but how long will all that last?

Athletics has always been a major part of my life. My most serious athletic endeavors began in California after age 40. As a nationally ranked distance runner, I ran 7 marathons under 3 hours. At 51, I was the oldest woman to complete the grueling Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in less than 24 hours. At 61, I completed the Markleeville Death Ride, a 125 mile bicycle event in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with 16,000 feet of climbing over five mountain peaks. I considered myself to be biologically immortal.

After 65, I was older and s-l-ow-e-r. This was a hard adjustment since I was unable to enter the runner’s winning circle for my age group. It was difficult to come in at the end of a running competition. Several years ago, and with great sadness I ended my competitive racing. Now my runs are for pleasure and fitness.

Injuries have also plagued me and most occurred after the age of 50. Today I am a bionic woman with a metal mushroom in my left arm and a metal plate in my collarbone. My knees suffer from depleted cartilage. Although bone does hit bone, I can still run but ever more slowly. Luckily, my DNA has a rapid recovery gene. Yet, after each injury I wonder is my athletic life over.

All this has given me pause. Age, wrinkles, and sagging body parts can be dealt with. Yet I worry about the day when I won’t be able to run, cycle, ski or hike. Slowing down is no longer a problem but the thought of stopping brings much grief. Several times a month people compliment my looks and follow with a comment like, “You are 70? Wow, that must be the new 50.”

Once I told my Rabbi about my fear of decrepit aging. I added that I still want to climb mountains. He thought a moment and said, “The hardest mountain is still ahead of you.”

Bette Davis was probably my sister in another life. She certainly understood aging when she quipped, “Growing old is not for sissies.” This I Believe.