I hung from the gold silks, well above the big mat on the floor below, enjoying the feeling of being airborne.
Briefly. Then, because class was starting, I needed to come down. I forgot how.
Of course I did.
So, in that way that rookies are reminded so beautifully that we are, indeed, rookies, I scorched my left hand on the descent, as our instructor had warned. Two big blisters instantly appeared. I was three minutes into my second Absolute Beginner Aerial Silks class.
I’m 68. I’ve never done anything like this before (other than skydive but that’s another story). Not a gymnast. Never tumbled. I just decided that I wanted to do this. After all, why not?
After I signed my life away on the waiver, which tells you that you can die, of course you can, I leapt into this class with the same abandon as I do most new sports. Look, I’m about as graceful as a drunken camel. What I do have, which gets me through just about everything in life, is a wicked combination of humor and determination.
I’ve always wanted to do this. Why not me? Why not now?
I am also investigating martial arts. Why not me? Why not now?
Why not you?
Before you excoriate me for being “lucky,” let me review. I’ve been obese. Had eating disorders for 40 years. Had more injuries than I can count or even recall at this point. Sexual assault survivor. I hardly call any of that lucky. I feel immensely lucky to be alive, especially after this past year.
If I have learned anything about being under quarantine, limited by the necessary restrictions to protect my health and that of others in my community, it’s that when those restrictions began to lift, I was going to make the most of the time I have left to me.
This may not appeal to you. However, as a collector of stories that inspire, let me share this: for the last three weeks I’ve been writing about a local bodybuilding competition. The show was on Saturday the 24th.
I attended all three weeks’ posing practices and met many of the participants. The average age was 40, and there were men over 70 and women nearly 60. None of them are pros. None take drugs. All of them are everyday, normal folks who decided to take their health in hand.
I watched them pose, run through their moves. Women whose bodies show the aftermath of childbirth. Men whose bellies used to be acres bigger. These people all decided that middle age, the way most of us experience it, and aging, the way society makes it out to be, isn’t for them.
Each of those folks has a back story. Overweight, depressed, weak. One man has cerebral palsy, was told he’d never walk. He now holds multiple Oregon championships for powerlifting. His cerebral palsy affects his walk, but he is by far among the best built and strongest of anyone in the gym.
One woman, easily approaching 60, has cellulite and soft arms. She likely started at one hundred pounds more than where she is today, posing in a tiny revealing bathing suit. Her body isn’t perfect, and she is no fitness trainer. But she is vastly more fit than where she began, and that is the whole point.
For my aging dollar, the courage it takes to strip down to those basics and strut your aging stuff on stage blows my mind. That is what aging vibrantly looks like. More importantly, however, is the fact that these men and women are strong, healthy and drug-free.
Shannon, in her 50s, a childhood sexual assault survivor, told me that she decided to take her health in hand. Over time she dumped all her prescriptions, and she is now in better shape than nearly anyone else I know. That’s personal power. The harder she works, the more confident she is. Same for all the contestants. My gym here in Eugene is the Northwest mecca for master’s competitors.
Of course not.
My friend Maggie Krueger, down in Sarasota, this past year got her Instrument Flight Rules rating for small airplanes. She’s 68. Last year she pulled a 300-lb man out of the Gulf of Mexico to earn her Rescue Scuba Diver rating.
Do you have to do any of these things to prove your worth?
Of course not.
However, here’s where I’m going with this. As you and I age, we can accept the conventional wisdom that we just slow down, get weak, fall apart. Diminish, get ill.
If that option works for you, have at it. My world is chock-full of folks who choose differently. It takes hard work, discipline and effort. And there are so many ways to age well. Simply eating more intelligently for the body we have and the activity level we engage in, and then moving more, begins to give us options. That’s really all I’m discussing here: options as we age.
I happen to love being in the air. I don’t mind the bumps and bruises that can and do come with sports like aerial silks. What is far more important for me is that I master my fear of the tricks, not that I necessarily master the tricks. I might. But I’m never going to compete.
What I want are the uber-awareness and body awareness that this kind of sport demands, for any mistake, as with any air sport, can mean disaster. I like that. But then, I’m mildly insane.
What might be a challenge for you or your partner is getting out of the easy chair without a cane. That is a huge issue for older folks, and you learn to do that by getting up and down repeatedly, regularly, until your big thigh muscles have regained their considerable strength.
It is entirely possible, unless you are disabled. But then, so often we disable ourselves through lack of work, buying into hackneyed stories about inevitable aging issues when so many are not inevitable at all. We can disable ourselves mentally a lot faster than physically.
As I stare down 70 in barely a year and a half, I am deeply moved and motivated by those so-called “super-geezers” like Betty Goedhart who, in her 80s, is still doing trapeze work. She didn’t begin until she was 79. In fact, she was my inspiration for trying aerial silks. Will I do what she does? Nope.
However, what I learn on the silks will bleed over to other sports, other parts of life, better balance, strength and body confidence. I am also motivated by those everyday folks in the gym who are getting ready to compete after completely redirecting their health.
If you think this is about showing off, you are missing the point. It’s about showing up. Not just for ourselves but for those many in our lives who are learning from us how to age. That is our greatest gift. Betty inspired me. Who will inspire you? Who will you inspire?
Sixty and Me is chock full of other folks writing about nutrition and exercise. These are choices. I choose to eat well, exercise a lot, and climb colorful silks to the ceiling. Who knows what I’ll be doing in a few months… Does it matter?
Not at all. What does matter is that as you and I age, we continue to plow a path forward that entails joy, strength, ability, options and lots of laughter. To me that is the greatest of all gifts: mastering life through humor. For I will fail. I will fall. I will mess up.
And I will giggle on the way down, as well as laugh in the face of life as I get right back up.
Have you tried something new in the past month? What was it? How did you like the experience? What have you lost during quarantine? What have you gained? How are you walking toward health in your 60s and beyond?