The New York Daily News recently ran a story about Joy Johnson, the oldest woman to run the New York City Marathon. At the age of 86, this was her 25th time running that particular Marathon. She finished even after falling and hitting her head. Sadly, the next day she passed away. She went to take a nap and never woke up.
I find this story amazing on two levels. First, that this woman who reportedly had said in the past “I’m going to run until I drop… I’m going to die in my tennis shoes” did just that – her last full day on this earth was spent doing what she loved, then she passed relatively peacefully in her sleep. How could any of us ever ask for more?
Secondly, she was running a marathon. At 86. Even more astonishing, the article indicated that she had lamented that she was slowing down, but that she still regularly did eight-mile runs and completing 150 push ups. At 86!
I know my sarcastic glass-half-empty friends out there would say “See? Exercise killed her!” On the contrary, my friends. Exercise kept her fit, happy and strong for over 80 years.
Of course most of us are not marathon runners – at any age. Women who regularly participate in physically demanding events like marathons, or who are elite athletes, fall into the category of extraordinary Real Women. The rest of us regular Real Women strive to get some sort of regular exercise because we know it is good for us, and we may even admit it makes us feel better.
At this time of year this can be especially challenging. It is dark and getting cold. We have an overwhelming desire to channel our inner mama bears by settling in for a big ol’ plate of comfort food then burrow under a blanky and hibernate. Getting up and moving can be one of the last things on our minds.
I have to laugh when I read articles in magazines about female celebrities and their workouts with their trainers, and how hard they’ve worked to get their perfect bodies. I’m sure they have worked hard…. yet clearly if we all had home gyms that look like this:
we’d all be much more motivated to get fit. But in the real world, most of us have treadmills or stair masters or other chunks of old fitness equipment that were popular in the 80’s, which are gathering dust in our dark basements, or are being used as clothes dryers. Either that, or we have gym memberships that require venturing out into that dark cold world to visit. If we are lucky, we have a long-suffering spouse or work-out buddy BFF to share the pain.
Yet complain as we do, we can’t ignore that the benefits outweigh (pardon the pun) the downsides. Generally the problem lies in the “get up and get going” process. Once moving, it is better. My Ob/Gyn once shared a great analogy with me. She said after a certain age for women, sex is like going to the gym. It takes a lot of effort to go, but once you finally go through with it, you feel better and are glad you went.
Not too many of us will be like Joy the grandma marathoner, but as long as we are doing something, we may just live a bit longer and stronger. The other day I had a conversation with my Aunt. She has always been full of energy. Now in the later half of her 7th decade, she told me that she still plays tennis twice a week and goes regularly “to the damn gym.” She is one of those women who looks at least 15 years younger than she really is. Coincidence? I think not.
The other day I took a very short, unscientific “quiz” online to determine my “fitness age.” The results came back, and they knocked 4 years off my actual age. I was disappointed at first, as I had hoped that I’d get a virtual pat on the back and be told that my body was something amazing like 10 years younger than my chronological age. But then I realized at least it didn’t come back saying I had one foot in the grave. So I must be doing something right.
I guess I better keep at it. And after hearing Joy’s story, I’m going to try very hard to not give in to temptation to slow down or complain about feeling too old to complete my workouts. I’m not sure I’ll die in my tennis shoes – but I’ll do my best to still look good in them until the very end.