Grandma is a Jock

You're never too old to set new goals.

When you think of the word Grandmother, what is the first vision that pops in your mind? Don’t let yourself think, just react. If you’re like me, I think of an older woman, maybe in her 80s, with gray hair, baking cookies or sitting in a rocking chair knitting. The old stereotype may be a reason some of us may initially resist the title of grandmother even as we long for the role. There have always been women that go beyond the stereotype, but there is a growing number of women defying the stereotype, seeking adventures and remaining athletic well into their senior years.

The increase in life expectancy has played a large part in changing the look of grandparenting. In 1900 the average life expectancy was in the forties. The next century brought increasing life expectancy, but in addition to quantity, better health care and advanced technologies mean our quality of life is generally better. It explains why sixty really is the new fifty, our lives have become easier and healthier. Retirement and death used to be almost synonymous, but as the average age expectancy increases, many people have twenty years and more to explore interests.

This may be pure conjecture, but I also think there’s a connection with the passage of Title 9 in 1972 and the numbers of women in their sixties still involved with competition. We’re the first generation of grandmothers that were affected by Title 9, which gave us the opportunity to participate in athletic competition. Some women loved it so much they stuck with it, but many others like me took a twenty-year break to raise kids and then came back to it after the nest was empty.

My fellow Team USA member; both of us recently turned sixty and we both have one-year-old grandchildren!

When I turned sixty in May I had a hard time for a couple weeks. How could I be this old? I didn’t feel like what I thought sixty would feel like. I could go all day thinking I was still in my forties until I caught glimpses in the mirror forcing me to face reality. I was feeling kind of down about aging until I started thinking about my group of friends, many of whom had not only passed the sixty-year mark but also the seventy-year milestone. Those friends gave me a peek into the window of what the future could be like and it looked pretty darn good! What these women, all grandmothers, have in common is they keep moving–physically and mentally. They constantly set new goals, keep up with technology and are socially connected.

Pam, a grandmother of three, finishing a half marathon!

One of these women is Pam, a friend I met quite by accident one snowy morning. I was running downtown with a group of five brave souls all crazy enough to endure freezing cold temperatures to get a six-mile run done. A few miles into the run it started snowing, that rare snow that is absolutely beautiful, light and fluffy. In an otherwise empty downtown, we spotted a lone walker and stopped to talk to her. Somehow, she had been separated from her normal walking group, but we persuaded her we were slow runners and she could keep up with us. From that run forward, she became an integral part of our pack and a treasured friend. Besides being a runner, she’s a grandmother of three and an active community and church volunteer. A great role model for her grandchildren, she ran the Disney 5k with her eleven-year-old grandson. This fall at the age of seventy-one this awe-inspiring woman will run in the Chicago Marathon, her very first full marathon. It’s never too late to set a new goal!

Pam and her grandson at the end of the Disney 5k!

 Pat Gallant-Charette is one of my main role models. I first heard her name last summer when at the age of sixty-six she became the oldest woman to ever successfully swim the English Channel! This grandmother of four has gone on to become the oldest woman to complete the triple crown of swimming, The English Channel, The Catalina Channel, and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim- each an incredible feat alone but together truly amazing! Pat’s accomplishments and her motto, “Age is just a number. If you have a dream, go after it!” is an inspiration no matter what your goal may be.

I’m a mediocre athlete. I don’t say that in a self-deprecating way, I say it in a matter-of-fact, truthful way. I’m a decent swimmer, a really bad biker and a middle of the pack (on a good day) runner. My best quality is perseverance, some might call it plain stubbornness.  I do the workouts six days a week and I keep showing up at the start line, and I consider that success.  When you’re a mediocre athlete you must have a strategy, and my strategy is to stick with it as long as I possibly can. I’ve let go of performance expectations. I try my hardest but more importantly, I go out on the course and I appreciate the sheer fact my body is capable of swimming, biking and running. Evidence shows moving every day for at least 45 minutes is an essential element in healthy aging. Keep moving or as Dory would say, “Just keep swimming”!

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Denmark as part of Team USA to compete in the age group (I’m in the 60-64 age group) Triathlon World Championships. My husband was also on the team, which made the experience even more epic. Although I had less than a great performance, it was a fantastic experience and one I’ll always remember. I met a few other grandparents competing also, including several who were traveling with adult children and grandchildren. One man I met was traveling with his adult daughter and her five-year-old twins, and he was concerned that chasing after the twins was going to affect his performance, but it was worth it to have his grandchildren there to cheer him on. Can you imagine being a kid and watching your grandparents competing in triathlons? Besides being kind of cool, it’s a good example of staying healthy and fit. The appeal of someday participating in a run or triathlon with my grandson is a motivating factor in continuing to stay active.

Although neither of us felt like we had a good race, it was an honor to be on Team USA!

There are all kinds of grandmothers. Be whoever you want to be, or as the saying goes, “You do you”. A cookie-baking grandmother is sure to be popular, and a knitting grandmother can make some great presents. A marathon-running grandmother is impressive, as is a grandmother that conquers marathon swims. As C.S Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream”.

Categories: Grand Life