Aleida K Wahn J.D.

The View From Here

It Is Never Too Late To Set Ambitious Goals

These Octogenarians Show Us How

Posted Jun 20, 2017

Iqoncept/CanStock Photo, used with permission
Source: Iqoncept/CanStock Photo, used with permission

June 1, 2017. The day hit me like a ton of bricks as I realized the countdown was officially on to my big birthday. In eight short days I would reach a milestone number. What year? Well, let’s just say it was a number I was grappling with. Milestone birthdays do have a way of making us reflect on our lives. Are we where we want to be? Did we accomplish what we thought we would by this age? Are we fulfilled? As these deep thoughts churned in my head, I was suddenly jolted out of my somewhat morose introspection when the perfect story for me came on the television. A 94-year-old woman had just finished the San Diego Rock N Roll Half Marathon! Had I heard that right? I certainly had, and on a day when I needed inspiration, it was handed to me in the form of a petite grandmother in a purple race shirt, wearing red lipstick and a joyous smile as she crossed the finish line to overwhelming fanfare. A new world record had just been set. I had to hear more.

I soon learned that Harriette Thompson was a two-time cancer survivor, having battled through squamous cell carcinoma and oral cancer. She originally had her sights set on the full marathon of 26.2 miles, a feat clearly within her grasp as she already completed 16 marathons and held the world record for being the oldest woman to complete a full marathon at the age of 92.  This year, her training schedule had been interrupted by difficult cancer related surgeries, including skin graft surgery after cancer had created a hole in her leg, and a new titanium jaw. Determined to still compete, Harriette Thompson proved nothing could hold her back as she ran into the record books for being the oldest woman to complete a half marathon.  

A remarkable part of the story is Harriette Thompson didn’t even take up running until she was 76! Her debut into the racing world began as a way to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Through the years, her fundraising efforts through running have raised over $100,000. A key to her success is surely her positive attitude. Thompson told a reporter she does not think, “I can’t do this,” but maintains an attitude of “It’s a piece of cake.” As the story concluded, I immediately decided I would not deem myself old or limited in any way.

Harriette Thompson’s achievements made me think of our dear family friend, Dr. Bill Spore, who in August of 2015, at the age of 80, swam into the record books as a member of the oldest team to successfully swim the Catalina Channel, a treacherous open ocean swim of 21 miles from Santa Catalina Island to the Southern California mainland. The six-man relay team, composed of men between the ages of 80 to 85, humorously dubbed themselves The Old Men and The Sea. The men, Don Baker, Bob Beach, Bob Best, Graham Johnston, Dave Radcliff, Bill Spore, and their alternate Norman Stupfel were spurred on by the competitive quest to beat the channel crossing record held by a group of 70-year-olds. Their website proclaimed they would boldly face “bone chilling temperatures, ocean swells, adverse tides, kelp beds, jellyfish, squid and the occasional barracuda and shark sighting.”

Grace Spore, used with permission
Nothing could stop this triumphant team!  The men are jubilant at the finish of their historic record-breaking swim across the Catalina Channel.
Source: Grace Spore, used with permission

The men decided nothing would stop them. Not age. Not even cancer. Dave Radcliff, a former Olympic swimmer and holder of prestigious swimming records, had survived prostate cancer and two myocardial infarctions requiring placement of two coronary arterial stents. The initiator of the swim, Don Baker, age 84, who twice swam the Maui Channel, had survived a heart attack and at the time of the swim, had multiple painful metastatic cancer tumors in his rib cage and hips, making it challenging to use his legs. The optimistic Baker told the San Diego Union Tribune, “Just because you have a disease state or health issues in your 80s, that doesn’t mean you can’t have goals and go and achieve something special every year.” Achieving something special is exactly what they did.

Taking one-hour shifts, commencing at 10:54 p.m. and swimming throughout the dark night, the men finished their historic swim in 12 hours, 15 minutes, and 23 seconds. At their triumphant finish on the shores of Palos Verdes Peninsula the international record was firmly theirs. Reflecting on this success and his life, Dr. Spore, an All-American swimmer who had swam and played water polo at the University of California Berkeley, believes swimming has contributed significantly to his longevity, physical condition, and has provided him with many lifelong friends.

Grace Spore, used with permission
Bob Beach handing off to Bill Spore. A high five exchange was part of the many requirements to make the swim an official record.
Source: Grace Spore, used with permission
Grace Spore, used with permission
Bill Spore and Dave Radcliff, livelong friends with a passion for swimming. 
Source: Grace Spore, used with permission

As I relayed these two stories to a close friend, she told me about a woman she met recently who is in her 80’s and spends her days flying on a trapeze. This energetic octogenarian revealed her secret to staying youthful is to stay active and to do something you love. If she can literally fly through the air with the greatest of ease, can’t we all find something that will make us feel like we too are flying high?

With these stories in mind, I decided the fountain of youth would continue to course through my veins through the challenge of three new pursuits. Determining my exercise routine needed a complete rejuvenation, I joined The Boxing Club, bought some purple boxing gloves, and am now boxing and kickboxing my way through strenuous boot camp classes. I will also bike rigorously for two hours each weekend, strengthening my body while taking in the beauty of the San Diego coastline. For my mental growth, I will write a book about the compelling criminal court trials I attend, revealing the human anguish with lessons that can be learned.

Since these stories prove we can continue to set ambitious goals for ourselves no matter what our age, I encourage people who read this article to commit to three life-enhancing, even life-changing, goals or adventures to start right this minute. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu showed us the way when he said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Take that first step today!

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