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Research has proven that lifestyle is more important than genetics when it comes to active longevity. And the most important component of lifestyle is not diet or exercise, it’s state of mind.
Hell no, I’m not too old!
Often times I find myself butting-in mid-conversation when people my age refer to us as old people, “Speak for yourself, I’m not old!”
One day recently I ran across a neighbor in the produce isle. He said that had seen me out running and that I should be careful, “We are too old for such physical exertion.” I countered with, “What? Maybe for you, don’t lump me in with that group.” Followed by a smirking smile and, “I’m not old, YOU are way older than me.”
Im not. Because I am committed to a healthy, active lifestyle with a positive state of mind.
Unlike my kids, I was a sedentary teenager who hated exercise and sports. The bad taste in my mouth from sports was mainly due to the fact that I was always the last kid chosen for the team in gym class. You know, the kid who the gym coach assigns to a team to the response of “oooohhh no, not St. Hilaire!”
Yeah, I was that kid.
When I was 14 years old, I fractured my back. I had a compression fracture on my L2/3 vertebrae from falling on my tail bone while snow skiing. My back hurt so bad as I sat in that snow bank and wiggle my toes, hoping for movement and feeling. It was a scary experience. I was escorted to the hospital from the ski resort in an ambulance and spent a week in the hospital, on my back.
Could it get worse? Yes. My doctor fitted me for a metal back brace that I had to crank tighter by one turn every day… for four months. “Really?” I exclaimed through tearly eyes, “I’m already a nerd!”
That was the worst middle school experience, other than Algebra.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school when I dislocated my knee cap, all the way around to the back of my leg. Gross. I have no glamorous story to tell about how this happened. The doctor said I had a congenital defect, truth of the matter is I slipped in the shower. Pretty much the best part about this incident was that my orthopedic surgeon gave me a “get out of jail free” card in that he wrote me a note excusing me from gym class for the rest of my high school career.
Thank you Dr. Shea!
Over the next three years I endured three full open knee surgeries, this was before the days of the miracle of arthroscopic. My first surgery left me in a full plaster leg cast (from hip to ankle) for six weeks. By the time the cast was removed, my right leg had suffered some significant atrophy. My second surgery left me with three screws in my knee, in an attempt to re-align my patella tendon, combined with a full leg soft cast. The third and final surgery was a procedure of carving out the back of my knee cap in order to get it to sit lower on the joint, eliminating excess lateral movement. This time a soft cast on just the knee area gave me much more mobility, much sooner.
Interesting thing about the third surgery, I had to have my 60-or-so staples removed before they were ready to come out, and I had to abandon the crutches a litttle early. I was spending a semester abroad in college and my travel date was up.
Limping around London, looking for compassionate fellow students to help me with my luggage was a challenge.
Being that I hated exercise, the physical therapy was something I dreaded over those three years, and admittedly did not comply with. Had I truly worked at building up the muscles around my knee, I would have done much better and been much stronger.
More Orthopedic Issues
Since those three major surgeries (the scars over the top of my leg are very sexy) I have not been a stranger to orthopedic issues. At six months pregnant, I rolled my ankle over a curb and broke my foot. That’s what you get for gaining 65 lbs to the tune of 200 lbs. that’s a lot of pressure on a rolled ankle. Down I went, off to ER I went. The next six weeks consisted of my fourth stint with a cast and crutches.
That foot hurt for three years. Cortisone shots helped, but eventually my podiatrist told me that he could not keep injecting me, my time was up. Time heals most wounds. Four years pretty much left me pain free.
Never Too Late
At age 40 I somehow let my athletic sister talk me into competing in a triathlon. She signed us up as a buddy team for the Danskin Women’s triathlon and travelled to Florida to pull me across the finish line.
This was the beginning of my getting into the best shape of my life. We finished first in the buddy category and that feeling of accomplishment was empowering. My sister had given me the gift of inspiration and motivation.
I competed more olympic distance triathlons than I can count, training for them full time, for five years. Sometimes I simply finished, sometimes I made the top ten percent of my age group, and sometimes I placed and was on the podium! It was this healthy, active lifestyle that not only put me in better shape than that sedentary high school kid, but made me feel vibrant and energetic — youthful.
More Surgical Setbacks
At age 46 I had to endure arthroscopic surgery for bone spurs, and a bicep tendon tear, on both of my shoulders. I had been in pain for several years, but feared the orthopedic surgeon would tell me to limit my active lifestyle. My shoulders started to limit my lifestyle. The aero bars of my bike were impossible to stay down in. Swimming with the masters program gave me pain that prevented me from getting a good night’s sleep. Even the jostling of running made me sore.
I eventually sought out a sports medicine doctor in Orlando who taught me to modify my weight lifting routine, taking some pressure off the shoulders, and at first we tried cortisone. He understood that the last thing I wanted was for these shoulders to come between me and my workout. People do change!
Two outpatient surgeries, four months apart left me with six small X-marks-the-spot scars and no physical activity, other than very light weights, for four to six months.
Starting New Again
This year my resolution was to get back to it. Anyone who’s taken a hiatus from an active lifestyle knows that it’s difficult to get back. Especially to the level of triathlon training that I was at.
Every day that I drag myself out of bed at 5am to swim with the masters, or bike with Seminole Cyclists Saturday group ride, or to get to the gym, or take a long morning run… I fell younger, I feel better, I feel stronger. I feel thankful, I feel grateful, I feel blessed.
Passing it On
The moral of this story? Age or injury does not need to bring you down or hold you back.
Be inspired, be motivated, be dedicated, be a Rock Star of Aging®.
Can you live to 100? Would you want to live to 100? Ready or not, the age of the centenarian is here. Centenarians are now the fastest growing segment of our population. Of course, we believe that it’s not about the number of years we live but the quality of those years. We call active centenarians who still have an enviable quality of life, the Rock Stars of Aging®. — Growing Bolder