I was doing my first sprint triathlon: a 400-meter swim, 12-mile bike ride, and a 2-mile run. I had trained and I considered myself to be in decent shape, but the event wasn’t easy for me. Overweight and pre-diabetic. I always thought, “I’ll do these events for as long as I’m able.” I couldn’t imagine that my hips and knees would hold up to the wear and tear of running. And then I saw something that inspired me and jogged my thinking, helping me see what is possible.
I didn’t know her, but she inspired me.
I first saw her as I was finishing my run and she was just starting hers. She was a tall woman with short, salt and pepper hair and what made her so memorable was the big smile on her face. I had no idea how old she was, but she was running in the oldest age group so I knew she was older than me for sure. I saw her as I huffed to the finish line and I remember thinking, “Wow. Maybe it’ll help if I smile because she looks like she’s really having fun!”
Finally all the athletes were in and the event was complete. The announcer began calling out the names of the winners from each age group to come to the podium for their medals. And when they announced the winners in the 70 + age group, there she was, rushing up to the podium. She was at least 70 years old! She had finished the triathlon faster than women half her age! And I finished only 5 minutes faster than she did.
I thought, “That’s what I want! To be 70 years old and still be able to do triathlons and be fit and happy! I want to be strong and active through midlife, not feeble and sick.”
Given my weight issues and pre-diabetic condition, I didn’t believe that I could really do it. I had a lot of excuses playing in my head. I bought into the common belief that getting older meant getting old. It just happens. People said, “Once you turn 40 your body changes and it’s all downhill… Once you turn 40 it’s next to impossible to lose weight… Diabetes runs in your family – You’re going to get diabetes…You really shouldn’t be running; it’s really bad for your knees.”
If she could do it, I could do it.
That day, I realized I really could do it. I could age well, and be strong and fit for as long as I wanted – I could be truly healthy and vibrant as I age. If she can do it, so can I. And if I can do it, so can you.
My road to true health has been long and winding, with many successes and setbacks along the way, but when I think about why I choose to live a healthy lifestyle, I remember the gift I got that day when that 70 year old triathlete crossed my path – helping me see that it is possible for me to be that strong and that active after my 70th birthday.
Even if you never plan to run, bike, or swim, I believe that you too can be strong and healthy as you age. It’s totally do-able.