Diversity, Revisited

Ascendiing El Capitan for my 70th b’day.

Why is it so hard for people to imagine a 70-year-old (like me) climbing El Capitan? Or any other mountain? Or running a marathon? The reaction to my 70th birthday climb of El Cap has surpassed anything I could have imagined. At last count, the story has played or been published on over 65 news or human interest venues around the world, including CNN, the NY Times, LA Times, London Times, and CBS News, to name a few!

About 15% of Americans are seniors. 15%! If you gave away 15% of your income to charity, you’d be considered outrageously generous. If you worked only 15% of the year, you could have a whole other life. Or your vacations would be incredible!

Mark Cicak climbing in the Sierra Nevada, in his 70s.

A whole lot of seniors are out there doing things that are never seen or acknowledged by most Americans.

And older women outnumber older men by about 7 million — which means there are lots of older women, like me, out doing things that younger people consider impossible.

Jannette Pazer on El Capitan, Yosemite NP.
Lori Milas, 68, climbing at Joshua Tree NP.

And yet, nary a photo of a gray-haired climber or runner in a magazine, or on a cover, or online. That strikes me as odd. Offensive, even.

Is it because we fear that when we’re old, we won’t be able to measure up to older role models who do extraordinary things? (But then, that should be true for young people, too…) Or because our parents or grandparents weren’t like that? All of my grandparents and all their relatives died in their 70s. To which I say, So what? They had a much harder life, all from ‘the old country’ where they had little food, no freedoms, no education. Especially, little nourishing food. Surely that has a lot to do with how long and in what condition we get to linger on this planet. 

Whatever the reason, we need to acknowledge, as a society, that getting old does not necessarily mean getting feeble. (Some people are feeble when they’re young.) Getting old is a privilege, to be cherished. I know many who did not get to enjoy that privilege. 

Certainly, health plays a determining role. If you suffer from a debilitating disease, obviously you’re not going to enjoy climbing mountains. But all things being equal, I’m no more able to climb El Capitan than you are; I just trained for it. A lot. You can do anything you want, if you break it down to baby-steps and work on each step until you master it. Success, in anything, is as simple as that.

…or a pleasant walk around the park…
A short bike ride with friends…

So start simple. A walk around the block. A short bike ride with a friend. No one begins running by planning to do a marathon. Baby steps are the way to get out there and start enjoying Nature!

Hulda Crooks scaled Mount Whitney (14,505 ft) 23 times between the ages of 65 and 91. During that same time period, she also climbed 97 other peaks. 

Kris Machnick started rock climbing at 64, and ice climbing at 65. At 80, she climbed 8 ice and rock routes to raise $100,000 to combat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Age is a number. And as any statistician knows, numbers can be tweaked to prove anything at all. You’re as old, or as young, as you believe yourself to be. 

So, go start believing!

3 thoughts on “Diversity, Revisited

  1. Good words there! Here at the Gunks I have many older role models that give me no excuse to be a slacker. Those nice stone steps from the carriage roads to the base of the cliffs? That’s a volunteer trail crew made up of climbers in their 70s and 80s, moving huge rocks around. When you came to stay with me the first time, you recall we had a dinner party, all with bad ass women climbers over 50. So lots of Gunkies refusing to grow up and still climbing, x-c skiing, bike riding, building trails, etc… When I “grow up”, I want to be active like they are! Just renewed my AARP membership. While I’m not officially a senior citizen yet, might as well take advantage of the discounts!

  2. Wonderful post D!
    “Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Jack Benny.
    Bonne continuation!

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