Your hands tell me a story
Photo by Eduardo Barrios / Unsplash

The hype around folks who make it to 100, and those whose athletic feats are so fêted

In our desire for longevity, with the constant emphasis on living longer without equal emphasis on living well for most of those years, we often lose focus. When it's not concentrating on the horrors of aging, the media regularly serves up articles which breathlessly claim that x number of hazelnuts a day will add YEARS to your life (nope).

Then you see articles like these:

Catherina is turning 111 years old and still hits the gym up to three times a week
Catherina van der Linden, who is believed to be Australia’s oldest living person, will celebrate her 111th birthday this week.
Meet the 96-year-old Philly geneticist who wants you to know ‘SuperAgers’ are ‘not old and decrepit or whatever’
“SuperAgers” Family Study research effort looks at the genetics of longevity: “We want to understand what helps people to live not only long lives, but also healthy lives,” a researcher said.
Who said a 75-year-old couldn’t get up those mountains? Meet the oldest finisher of the Ironman World Championship Nice - Triathlon Magazine Canada
Canada’s Bob Knuckey takes his fourth world championship title
100-Year-Old Runner Sets World Record
“I’m a nice example of what you can do with yourself”

Some of this is really appealing. Some have begun to irritate me a little.

It's not that I don't love the stories. I do.

They strike me as ageist. It's often the tone, the choice of wording in the article. The "isn't that so CUTE" condescension directed at someone whose lifetime chops vastly outstrip the writer's, but the writer is, well, young.

And by virtue of that, superior. Oy. Look at this cute lil' ol' lady doing the dash. AWWWWWW.

It won't offend you until such treatment is directed at you. That has a way of changing the conversation.

Why make such a big deal about people who are doing well into their 90s and later? Those folks likely have dentures or wear diapers or are fighting signs of dementia too. At that point we've all got multiple things going on. It's part of the contract of hanging around so much longer.

Why can't we normalize happy aging, so that we have much more to look forward to? Late- in-life athletes as well as non-athletes are increasingly a norm among those who have embraced the challenges of aging, with all the gunk that goes with it. They go out and do it anyway.

My gunk is nowhere near as bad as others' challenges, yes I do go out and do it anyway. There are folks with twenty years on me making me look like a pure plodder.

Making these good people sound like they are ALL THAT can cause many of us to feel that we aren't.

In fact, I got nasty grams on Medium from people who took my fitness and adventure stories personally. They read implicit judgment into them, accusing me of "making them feel bad because they aren't super-agers."

First, I'm not responsible for how they feel or their reactions to any given story.

Second, if they're angry, the only person they're angry at is themselves, possibly for not taking better care of themselves. That's perfectly understandable, but kindly let's then DO something, even if it's only to change our minds.

Third, there are a great many factors we get to juggle. I made poor choices too, but was able to turn many of them around in time. Those lousy choices cost me my teeth, perhaps other issues, but overall better lifestyle habits have paid off.

That's what I want: for as many people as who can make a change for a better Final Third.

For those for whom disease, disability or just plain bad luck has sidelined them as they have aged, is that their fault? Absolutely not. Should they feel less than because they can't run a marathon at 100?

Absolutely not.

Sure, I celebrate these people. But I have to question why it's such a BFD that certain people are THAT OLD and still running, playing, writing, being in life in full? Why does it come across as such an amazing feat? They're doing what they love. So should we all.

I link to these stories because I love role models who aren't famous aging athletes. Most are everyday people, our neighbors, the folks two pews down at church, the lady at the corner house who dedicates hours to helping high school kids, any one of a thousand different iterations of living well.

Let's highlight the consistent message of happiness that's woven through the fabric of such people. The demands of youth and middle age have fallen away to reveal a core of genuine strength and appreciation for life itself. That's the part so worth celebrating.

Not just a world record for a 100-yard dash. But the willingness to suit up and go despite the fact that yeah, perhaps that bubble butt is, in fact, a diaper.


And your point is?

At the same time these articles have value in reminding us of what's possible if we're willing to work, I also like to to challenge the dumb stuff.  The promises people lean into out of the terrible hope that someone will someday hand them the magic pill to stave off old age, stay young and have those cobblestone abs.

Inside the very strange, very expensive race to “de-age”
“Young blood,” starvation, fruit-only diets: How the rich are striving to “age in reverse”

Just this past week I was listening to NPR do an interview with Dan Buettner, whose Blue Zones program is on Netflix. Would have been all right but for the interviewer, who pointed out how many of the centenarians drank wine every day.

Buettner didn't correct him, which is part of the issue. Here was a fine opportunity tell the journalist and the listeners to STOP looking for reasons to continue drinking alcohol or eating pasta, as though those were the secrets.

Drinking wine isn't the answer. All the other healthy habits are the answer; they are why these oldsters CAN drink a little wine or eat pasta. They've earned it.

That kind of stupidity, even from NPR,  is precisely the point. We as a culture cast about for the Easy Button when there is none.

You and I need to create our own Blue Zone in our houses, in our communities. People who think the way we do, are focused on what's possible and don't spend precious time chasing not only improbable but outright foolish magical answers to an intractable challenge: aging. Death.

Those of you caring for someone who isn't aging well know all too intimately the costs. The cost to both them and us is considerable. What we are able to affect for ourselves is defined by their constant needs, so some of ours have to be tabled.

Aging well in this sense is a whole other story. It involves so much more of our ability to give, be of service and swallow the loss of what we might have dreamed for our final years. I watch that with my neighbor Julie, whose partner Paul, many years older than she, consumed years of her life with constant daily care.

So while I write a great deal about healthy aging, about fitness and nutrition and all the rest, this element is part of it. That unknowable which could sideline us. It will most assuredly touch me at some point. Already has, although I have been able to continue, so far.

There comes a time for each of us when a profound changes transforms everything. It's coming. For some, those who reach 100 and beyond, they're celebrating every waking moment. My guess is that you will, too, if you make it that far.

What the extreme old keep teaching us is how we can live right now- and how to normalize being fully and in life and grateful for it today.

Undying Love
Photo by Jake Thacker / Unsplash

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