Challenge Yourself: Age is No Barrier to Adventure
I’ve always said to my kids that when I retire I want to be active, out and about, exploring, on an electric golf cart if necessary.
“How’s that going to be any different to now Dad?” they ask.
They have a point. I did get some golf cart practice in the Isles of Scilly recently.
But even if the kids don’t see the change coming, I do. Year on year their growing capabilities cast lengthening shadows on my own. It’s not that I’m old or even think of myself as old (in my head I’m still 36) but when I watch them run or ride I can’t help but acknowledge that I am getting older. And slower. And I can no longer guarantee I’ll beat them in a race, even if I don’t yet need a head start.
There was an old lady…
In the vigour of my youth, while cycling in Patagonia, I met an old German lady cycling solo down the length of the Carreterra Austral. Back then it was a dusty, pot-holed ripio road to nowhere, not exactly a place to retire to. We stopped to chat, as is the norm when strangers meet in the middle of nowhere, and as she leant on her sunny yellow bar bag and told stories of her itinerant retirement touring South America on a bicycle, I knew I wanted to be like her when I was 67 years strong. Before we parted I took a photo of her and when I look at it I still imagine her cycling on.
My own family retirement role models are not quite so inspiring. My Dad volunteered twice weekly at the local Oxfam Shop before developing Alzheimer’s and disappearing into an unfathomable reality. Meanwhile, Mum sits in a green velour armchair watching Jeremy Kyle thrice daily, making only reluctant forays into the drama of the real world beyond her front door.
Neither are futures I want for me. It’s not that I’m averse to sitting in an armchair, watching TV or even dribbling into my dinner, it’s just that I think I’m hard-wired to explore. Routine bores me, new experiences bring me to life, and I’m pretty sure a regular retirement would kill me quicker than my plan to circumnavigate the globe on a mobility scooter.
There was an “old” man
It was inspiring in so many ways to watch Sir Ranulph Fiennes take on the Marathon Des Sables recently. Not just because of the spirit he showed in challenging himself to tackle something that hard-core at the age of 71 (and having had a couple of heart bypass operations), but also for the way he did it in service of others, raising money for Marie Curie UK. [You can still check out his desert diaries and donate to Marie Curie UK to support his efforts: In the UK Text RUN to 7007 to donate £5]
I think I’d be happy to do the London Marathon age 71. He’s done an ultramarathon, billed as “the toughest footrace on earth”, 156 miles, the equivalent of six marathons, in six days, in the Sahara Desert, in temperatures of up to 50 degrees. Is it a case of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Or just madness?
— Marie Curie (@mariecurieuk) April 11, 2015
To me Sir Ranulph’s effort is an inspiring model of retirement, although I expect the word doesn’t figure in his vocabulary; stay active, get out, explore, do new things, keep challenging yourself and do some good for others.
Of course I’m not suggesting all pensioners should have to complete the Marathon Des Sables before drawing retirement funds, but I do think a bit of personal challenge is good for you, whatever your age and may even help extend your retirement. Certainly research suggests that staying physically and mentally active helps improve health, well-being and performance and while not a route to eternal life, may help offset the effects of ageing. I figure it’s probably the way to go for a more fulfilling end of life.
Challenge isn’t just for oldies
It’s not just Sir Ranulph’s attitude that touched me though, I was equally inspired watching the support, camaraderie and companionship offered by his coach, Rory Coleman as they journeyed together. Rory is a veteran of the Marathon Des Sables and has run it many times but this time was been different; he’s didn’t run it for himself, he did it for and with Sir Ranulph and Marie Curie.
Rory is years younger than Sir Ranulph but neither of them saw age as a barrier to challenge or their relationship, rather something to be acknowledged and taken into account. Anyone can do a challenge. Choosing the right one is part of the game as is having the right attitude, training and support around you and striking the right relationship.
If age is not a barrier, then what about the kids? Is challenge good for them? Rory’s role reminds me of a role I think we have as parents – to help kids develop a positive attitude towards choosing, facing and dealing with challenges. If we know life can be full of challenge, isn’t it right that we work to help our kids develop the skills to cope positively with it. Personal challenges can help with that. And we should play a role as supporters, encouragers, coaches.
It doesn’t have be the Marathon Des Sables (although age 16 you can participate with special approval and parental consent), what I’m talking about is helping kids develop the habit of choosing challenge. And then supporting them in following that through.
As Sir Ranulph prepared for the Marathon Des Sables, we were on holiday in the Isles of Scilly. You might think there’s not much to challenge you there, but Hannah managed to find one. It was a Scilly challenge. A silly challenge too, but with a serious point.
Choose challenge. It’s good for you.
Go on, challenge yourself
And leave a comment to let us know what you plan to do.