Slipping into my newest outfit from Lululemon and my matching neon green hiking shoes, hair and makeup ready to go, I prepared for my 6-mile walk from my daughter’s apartment to the Golden Gate Bridge and back again. As I made my way through Fort Mason, then onto Crissy Field, I soaked in the beauty of the magnificent orange bridge ahead. Feeling energetic and alive, I was clipping along at a quick pace when, all of a sudden, a long drink of water flew by me, her gray, shoulder-length hair blowing in the wind from under her baseball cap.
I guessed she was in her early 40s and had decided to create a fashion statement all her own by not dyeing her prematurely silver mane. And sure, at 66 years old, I would fully expect this young babe to be faster. Then she stopped to tie her shoe, and the truth was exposed. This was no spring chicken, but a wrinkled-faced woman well advanced in years.
Eying her up and down in amazement, I did what I love to do when feeling not up to par with someone else – I made excuses for her agility and my lack thereof. “I’m sure she’s never had both hips replaced or experienced a fractured pelvis from falling down a mountain while hiking,” I began in my head. But as she started to pick up speed again (and I tried to keep up), the bottom line was simple: She was just in better shape, even if she was 20 years older.
When I was a little girl, any time I was told one of my parents’ friends was turning 50, I was sure death was right around the corner. Fortunately, as I grew up, I saw how ridiculous that reaction was. Today, in my opinion, you’re not old until you reach 100. People are living longer and, as in the case of this woman, very healthy, active lives, so it shouldn’t have been a big surprise that she was in amazing shape.
As she sped ahead and I began to lag behind, this human specimen of dogged determination reminded me of something Betty Friedan once said: “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Today, there are so many opportunities for us as we move through the years, and strength will never leave us if we take care of our bodies. Seeing the joy on her face as she passed other stragglers, I began to wonder whether true strength came from not just eating healthy and working out, but from having a positive attitude and believing anything is possible. She had obviously set out to prove something to herself, and she was succeeding.
Several minutes later, I arrived at the end of the route and saw my new inspiration waiting. Beaming from ear to ear, she congratulated me on my quick pace and proceeded to thank me.
“I always pick one person to time myself against, and your pace nearly did me in,” she said.
Shocked and complimented at the same time, I felt my feelings of failure disappear. She continued, “Even though I’m 88, I still want what you’re having in life. I plan to never give up.”
Grinning back, I realized that was exactly how I wanted my life to be and replied to my new best friend, “No, thank you. I want what you’re having, too!”