Some of us, when we were younger, did amazing things with our bodies. We danced ballet, ran marathons, climbed mountains, gave birth. As my friend Marcie says, “We know stuff!” Although some of us may no longer be as active as we once were, our bodies still hold memories and maps of the ways we once moved through life. Some of us, later in life, have reconnected with our bodies and are stronger than ever.
There are many ways to honor our bodies of experience. Boost your spirits by savoring and sharing memories of favorite adventures. Stay active by doing what you are able, not pushing or forcing yourself into former ways of moving. Take a walk every day, even around the block. Join a gentle movement program that addresses the health of joints and bones.
Each of us is the only one who can be embodied in the bodies we have today. 2022 was a special year for me and my 65-year-old body. I fulfilled an adventure I’d been dreaming about for 20 years. Here’s my story.
25 years ago, I trained to become a whitewater rafting guide. I lived in a small, rural town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California, near several world-class boating rivers. I’d been a volunteer member of my local fire department, where I assisted with a few adrenaline-pumping rescue operations on one of these rivers.
This experience taught me about the destructive and dangerous power of water. It wasn’t until I signed up for a 10-day river guide training that I learned to navigate the river’s flow for fun.
I spent seven years guiding trips with Environmental Traveling Companions, a California non-profit organization making outdoor adventures accessible to people with disabilities and under-resourced youth.
Guiding for ETC, I spent too much time in the sun and made lifelong friends. Over the next couple of decades my river buddies and I traveled together, rafting rivers throughout the Western United States.
Five years ago, some of us began dreaming about the best way to celebrate our friend Tracy’s 50th birthday. We decided to raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. But instead of doing all the hard work that we were used to doing on such trips, we’d join a commercial trip and let younger, professional guides do the heavy lifting.
We were all set to go in the Fall of 2020. And then, COVID happened. The trip was put on hold. Half of our group canceled, while a few of us rescheduled for the next available launch date – two years in the future! I had started planning this adventure when I was 60. To be honest, the thought of taking the trip in my 65th year made me a bit uncomfortable. I wasn’t 100% certain my aging body could handle it.
I understood the rigors of whitewater rafting, but I had never visited the Grand Canyon nor spent 16 days in a harsh desert climate far from emergency care. Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) began to send emails highlighting the risks of spending 16 days outdoors 24/7:
“Make sure you are physically fit enough to hike every day, sleep on the ground, carry your dry bags and sleeping gear around camp and get on and off the rafts multiple times a day. The more physically fit you are, the more enjoyment you’ll get out of your adventure. This adventure is doable for most individuals if you take it seriously and understand the hiking, camping, rafting and overall risks of an adventure of this sort. We take our responsibility as your guides through Grand Canyon very seriously, and ask that you take your physical fitness and readiness seriously too!”
To bolster my courage as well as my strength, six months before the trip I enrolled in a weight-training program designed for seniors. I began walking at least 8,000 steps per day. Four months before the trip, I began training to meet AZRA’s somewhat startling list of physical requirements:
And at the request of some of my longtime clients, I opened my own weekly class series focused on body weight strength. The women who joined had their own reasons: a woman who is getting ready for extended travel with her husband in an RV, an avid gardener with a large property wants to stay fit for the seasonal demands of her hobby, a plein-air painter who enjoys an all-day mood boost after her workout.
That weekly class is still going strong and is open to new members who are approved for moderate intensity exercise.
Our rafting trip was full of challenges and extraordinary beauty. Each day began with one of the guides calling us to coffee and breakfast, then we packed up camp to raft down the river as it cut through billion-year-old rock layers.
We kept watch for bighorn sheep as we floated through the flat water and held on tight during the enormous churning rapids. Each night we pitched our camps under the stars and saw the full moon rise and set over towering sandstone cliffs.
Because of my guiding experience, I was invited to row a fully loaded, 3000-pound raft in one of the calmer sections. This gave me deep respect for our strong, young guides. One of the female guides asked if I’d like to row one of the smaller rapids, I firmly declined.
She said, “I believe in you,” which warmed my heart, but I continued to row only on the flats and only when I felt up for the challenge.
I enjoyed hiking at least once a day, often with the reward of a waterfall at the end of a side canyon. We climbed a steep trail to see pictographs and petroglyphs on rocks above the river. An “exposed” hike made me weak in the knees as I maneuvered the crux. Click for my video of hikers taking their time to successfully traverse a very narrow part of the trail. The trick was to not look down!
These kinds of experiences might not be your cup of tea, but I loved every minute of it! All my preparation paid off in being able to say “yes!” to every activity my Grand Canyon trip had to offer. I was surprised by how good I felt every day. Every time I share these stories, I relive the adventure. I may not have another big one in me, but I certainly plan to be active and keep moving for the rest of my life.
What has been your most cherished experience of your body’s power and grace? What has been the biggest adventure of your lifetime so far? Are you dreaming of an adventure that requires physical stamina and strength?
I tried the test you mentioned in your article and passed so I’m not in the worst shape of my life. I’m interested in getting more functionally fit. I am looking for a trip, a hiking goal to test myself in a wilderness setting. I turned 65 last week. I’ve been on injury reserve for 18 months or more, so it will be a slow and arduous journey back to where I was, if ever. Any suggestions on training for older women? I seem to either run into trainer who see me as elderly and hold back or the opposite and push me too hard. If you know of any books or videos I’d appreciate any suggestions you may have. Great article and very inspirational!
Hi Patti! Happy birthday!
I highly recommend Katy Bowman’s book Move Your DNA. It’s the foundation for the Restorative Exercise program that I teach.
You can check out my website that is linked below. Book a free Introduction to see if what I teach is a fit for you. I have a weekly online class called Be Strong that offers body weight strength, alignment and balance training. Sign up at the Online Studio
You might also check out Nancy Allen Burns’ Body Wisdom Studio for a complete range of Restorative Exercise programs for folks in the their 60s, 70s and 80s!
I’m so happy to hear that you are on your way to moving better!
I turned 67 yesterday. I’m relatively fit and would love a version of that adventure. I would definitely need to train a little, but do you have any recommendations for a level or two below your trip?
I’m not wasting any more time dreaming of adventures. I’m doing it! Looking forward to any advice you can share.
Happy birthday Shelly! For a shorter desert river rafting adventure, look at what OARS has to offer https://www.oars.com/colorado/ I loved spending 4-5 days on either the Yampa or Green Rivers for their geological beauty as well as exciting whitewater. There are trips on many rivers in the Western US and around the world to choose from at their website. Have a ball!