Never too late…

A few years ago, I took up ballroom dancing.  One of the school’s standout performers was a spritely and flexible 80-year-old woman named Fioretta.  Nothing – not age, not injury, not gravity – would stop her from her dream of competing as a dancer.  (For pictures of this miniature maven in action, check out the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Hamden website and look at photos 1020081320 and Fioretta Mystic 14 Nov 2009 – top and bottom left of gallery).

Fioretta is an inspiration, but she isn’t alone in believing age is irrelevant when pursuing a dream, taking on a challenge, or even starting a new life.

Rodney Dangerfield was a late bloomer – his career didn’t take off until he was 42.  Liz Smith, a famous English sit com actress, caught her first break at 50.  Grandma Moses started painting in her 70s.  Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House series in her 60s and Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows after he retired from his career at the Bank of England.  Richard Adams’ first novel, the best-selling Watership Down, was published when he was in his 50s.

Irene Wells Pennington turned her hand to business for the first time in her 90s and corrected financial irregularities that threatened to ruin her husband’s $600 million oil fortune.  Colonel Sanders was in the 60s when he started his chicken franchise.

In her 2002 one-woman show, Elaine Stritch described meeting the love of her life as she neared the age of 50 (of course, she blames her earlier lack of success on her taste in men, which included Rock Hudson).  Though the relationship lasted only 10 years because her husband succumbed to cancer, Ms. Stritch makes clear it was worth every minute of the wait to meet him.  She might not yet have learned how to love, had she met him any sooner.

Subconscious prodding

I quit the Cornell University diving team to study abroad in Ireland my junior year.  Well, that was the primary reason I quit.  Secondarily, I had a love/hate relationship with the sport.  I had physical talent, but mental weakness.  I allowed fear to control me, to limit me, and frankly to make me the team pita (pain in the…).

Ever since, I have had recurring dreams in which I beg my old coach to let me back on the team.  Sometimes, I’m back in college.  Sometimes, I’m much older.  Always, I’m passionate about proving to myself and my coach that I’m a changed person.  Inevitably, I get on the board, only to fall off, unable to dive in my sleep.  Invariably, I wake up feeling frustrated and motivated and disappointed with my past.

For years, I’ve been trying to apply the lessons of these dreams to the rest of my life.  Live without fear… no more regrets.  Still, the genesis of the dreams remains unresolved.  Until recently, it never occurred to me that whatever I have to work out would require an actual diving workout.  But, after weeks of taking my son to a gymnastics school for toddler time, I realized how much I missed by childhood passions.  On a whim, I looked up adult gymnastics and found both a gym class and a diving program.  Suddenly, I felt like I had to give it try.

Too old?

I’m not going to lie and say I’m as limber and strong as I was when I was 12; I feel every pound I’ve put on since.  But, it’s a laugh to get back on the floor and see what I can do.  It may not be much (I’m trying hard not to hurt myself!), but it’s more than I thought.  I was making fun of myself, in a self-deprecating way, for being old and broken, but the coach told me that there are 70-yr-olds competing at the veterans meets.  He wasn’t terribly impressed by the 35 circles I’ve got round my trunk.

And when I started diving, I found it wasn’t too hard to reignite the body memory.  Moreover, some of the old demons seem to be gone.  I still feel fear, but I find it does not stop me.  I concede to myself “I’m scared” and then go anyway.  Maybe it’s because now I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone but myself.  Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes from experience (or dare I say, age?).

Always time…

When I was little, my mother always assured me I could be anything I wanted to be.  I remember one day in my late twenties allowing myself some time to mourn all the careers that I actually couldn’t have: broadway star, Olympian, astronaut, etc.  But I’m starting to rethink my list.

Maybe we are reincarnated and have lots of lives.  Or maybe this is our one shot.  Regardless, we’ve got this one now, so best make the most of it.  Whether its climbing a mountain or learning to knit or taking a language lesson or skydiving or changing careers or mentoring a child or directing a movie or writing a book or taking a photograph, what’s to stop you?

Sure, it’s easy to come up with all kinds of reasons why something can’t or won’t work, but the truth is we are the only ones standing in our way. As Richard Bach put it in his enlightening book, Illusions“argue for your limitations and they are yours.” When we get out of our way, and open up to the possibility that we can become anything we can imagine, it’s amazing the opportunities that present themselves.

The truth is that you’re never too old, too poor, too responsible, too tied down, too busy, too … too… too… to explore a passion and realize a dream (literal or figurative).

I honestly have no idea if my subconscious really wanted me to dive again, but you know what?  It’s fun.  It makes me feel good about myself.  When I was a young athlete, I always had my sights set on some great goal (like the Olympics) and I was always disappointed in what I was able to accomplish.  Maybe I’m supposed to learn that it’s okay just to have fun… to enjoy something for its own sake…

That is an achievement in itself.


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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A great perspective and a great way to “stay young”.

  2. I remember while in my 40’s having a dillusion that I could do the cartwheels I had done in college… I turned one at a family party and thought that my entire being had been torn from my self! Several weeks later when final mobility returned and pain subsided,I resolved to never ever attempt such a ludicrous feat again!

  3. good to hear that you are doing well. Missed you at nadia’s birthday party last year. Would love to see you anytime you are around.

    • Hi there! Was very sorry we couldn’t make it to Nadia’s party, but the jet-lag was horrible. We’re back for most of the month of August and looking forward to seeing you all! Are you excited about the move back to the Boston area? Thanks so much for checking out my blog!

  4. […] my knees.  I’m horribly embarrassed to admit this, particularly in light of my last post (Never too late…), in which I waxed enthusiastic about my return to diving and gymnastics.  Ah, poor […]

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