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From Couch to Confidence: Athlete’s Story Shows Path to Fitness After 60

By Dami Roelse October 17, 2016 Health and Fitness

Not everyone has the same fitness level, nor the same fitness goals.

I have never considered myself an athlete. In a particular low time in my life when I was 58, I started Masters Rowing which led to a level of fitness I had never even dreamed of.

Now that I’m nearing 70, the exhilaration of competition isn’t there anymore, but I compete now and then to give myself a fitness goal.

Committing to a Goal

In September, I committed myself to an end-of-season head race – a 5,000M rowing race – in a boat with three other women. I don’t want to disappoint my fellow rowers in the race, so I’m training to be my best. Rowing a weekly 6,000M piece on the rowing machine is part of that training.

One night I went to bed knowing that I had to do it, get up in the morning, sit down on that rowing machine and crank out the numbers. Oh my God, what if I can’t do this again? Can my body keep it up, pushing my hardest for 27 minutes? Last week is ages ago. Will I die in the last 1,000M?

I ahem-ed and ahah-ed when I woke, played solitaire, watched the news; distractions from what I had decided the night before. There is a window of opportunity in the morning when hunger hasn’t kicked in and the body is rested. I was pushing the edges of that window sipping my morning cup of tea.

The First Step on a Fitness Journey is the Hardest

Finally, I sat down on the rowing machine, and after a ten-minute warm up, punched the 6,000M workout piece into the erg’s computer, 6,000M waiting for my action. 120 Strokes for each 1,000M – 720 strong, sweaty, strokes total. Could I beat my time of last week?

I started rowing, my bottom on the little seat, my quads contracting and pushing me backwards against the force of the tightly wound pull chain, my arms stretching and bending, tightening my core with every stroke back and forth as I moved the seat on the machine, my breathing deep and hard. I watched the meters start ticking down. I watched timing numbers go up and down, as they reflected every strong stroke, every unfocused moment.

After pushing hard for the first 1,000M, terror rose in my body, I won’t be able to keep this up, I thought. I have to slow down the rate. My time did not look good. Another 1000M. Can my legs keep pushing, or will the elevated lactose levels kill my strength toward the end? I’m breathing too hard.

Trusting in My Strength

I dropped down the rate a bit and suddenly felt steadiness in my movement, my legs carrying me. I can trust these legs; I trust my heart. These thoughts kept me going through the first 3000M, my time about where it was a week ago.

I stopped looking at the numbers and moved with my rhythm, my strength, my breathing. Another 1,000M down. I looked at the numbers again, Not as good as last week. I moved the seat faster back and forth, my breathing more labored.

Panic in my brain, I can’t keep this up for 2,000M more; I have to drop back. Way more than I liked. I lost to the self of last week. A self with a number that compared to other rowers, a strong confident self. I rowed out the last 1,000M, gave it that last push, counting the final 50 strokes by tens, a trick that keeps me focused and breaks the enormousness of the task.

Keeping Going to Keep Strong

End result, I did another 6,000M piece; my body can do it. Big take home: row at a pace where you trust your legs, your body, where the movement becomes a song you want to keep singing. I had decided to test myself. My decisions can be powerful; I don’t let myself down. Each time I follow up on a decision I value myself more; my confidence stays strong.

Past age 60 it is easy to fall into the trap of decline; the world around you gives you permission. The messages are all there: “Retire! Take it easy! Take time to smell the roses!” And then of course, there are the messages we don’t want to hear of “You’re over the hill! You don’t need to do that anymore! Take it easy, you might hurt yourself!”

All these messages end us up on the Couch, where confidence erodes. Have you ever felt better, stronger, more confident after a few hours on the couch? I haven’t. I walked away from that erg piece this morning knowing something very important about myself: Trust your body, let it move in its rhythm, and you’ll be as strong as you need to be. I can overcome inertia, I can row a 6,000M piece my hardest on a rainy morning when the couch and a cup of tea beckon.

As a life coach I encourage others to stretch and reach their goals. Do you have fitness goals? And how do these goals affect your confidence in living? How do you avoid the beckoning call of the couch? What does fitness after 60 mean to you? Please contribute your thoughts in the comments.

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The Author

Dami Roelse encourages her clients to live life with engagement. She blogs and coaches women 50+ to walk, hike and backpack. Her second book, Walking Gone Wild: How to Lose your Age on the Trail, was published in May 2018. You can find out more about Dami at Transformation Travel

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