Oh, sure, I’d heard it all – ‘You need to lose weight and get fit; join the gym and work out, watch your food choices and portions.’ As alluring as all that sounded, it did nothing to get me off the couch to restore my slimmer, fitter self, and the pounds kept adding up along with the rolls around my middle. I needed to find some bridge I could cross to make me want to regain my fitness.
Then, on a breezy overcast day last autumn, a boat ride on North Georgia’s Lake Lanier changed everything for me. Bumping across the wavelets at 50 mph with my brother and his wife, their cabin cruiser sped me back in time.
With the wind and spray in my face, hair whipping back, my body remembered a time decades in my past when I promoted and photographed world champion water skiers. Along with my nearly daily photo sessions, the skiers’ coach, Chuck Dees, had given me lessons which I found challenging and satisfying. At that time, I had undertaken a daily stretching and exercise program because, for skiing, the person must be in top condition. My lessons became a significant part of my life.
Gradually, my clothing size decreased as my stamina, strength and skill increased. I learned to pop up on one ski from deep water, and control my movements sufficiently to begin crossing wakes back and forth. That was exhilarating! I cannot express the joy and power over myself I felt at that time of my life!! And, years later, I had actually forgotten that. How sad! I had become a lump, just kind of waiting for my clock to run out.
Then, in October 2010, five months before my 70th birthday, my brother Chris and his wife Ceci invited me to go out on their boat, and that’s when it all began again. As we flew across the water of Lake Lanier, I suddenly found myself on my feet balancing against the ever-changing boat’s movements. Next, almost without realizing it, I put my right foot behind my left in the slalom position, and held on as we turned and bobbed. Bending my knees slightly I swayed back and forth with the boat, still in ski position. My legs were tired, but I just couldn’t let myself sit down. It felt great!!
This lasted for 15 or 20 minutes, as my mind raced along with the boat. ‘Could I…? Dare I even think about…? Well, maybe… Heck, why not?’ I had decided that I wanted to go through my seventh decade much differently from the way I had spent my 60s. I began to believe I could really recapture the vigor and discipline of my earlier years.
Finally, as the boat came to a stop Chris and Ceci grinned at me, eyes shining. I proposed to them that if I could get myself in shape by the following summer, they would take me out for a ski run. Immediately, we all high-fived, and the challenge was on!
Well, the training went fine for a month or so. I had joined Bally Gym and begun working out regularly, when I learned that I needed surgery on my right foot. ‘OK,’ I thought; ‘I’ll get it over with, and get back on the program’. But it wasn’t so simple.
After the six-week recovery period during which my doctor informed me I was to stay off my foot and keep it elevated, my right leg began hurting and got progressively worse until I could barely walk, so I consulted Dr. Samuel Milton at Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center, who diagnosed my condition as patellar-femoris syndrome.
When I told him of my goal, his face lit up; he’s a waterskier himself! So, I knew this extremely fit man was heaven-sent to help me get up on the water. He put me on a detailed program of weight, resistance and aerobics training, and recommended a healthful eating program – all geared to my particular needs and goal.
Initially I would hobble into Bally in great pain, fortified with a leg brace and extra-strength analgesic. Gritting my teeth, I worked through the routine regularly. No, I didn’t feel like it, but I told myself that was my job at that time, and I’d soldier on. I continued working out, gradually improving, and then came another roadblock. My husband Stan was diagnosed with Stage 2 prostate cancer. He would require radiation therapy for 25 business days, and I’d be driving him.
We discussed the cancer, and the role it would play in our lives, and decided that we wouldn’t let it define us. I decided that, while I would care for Stan and help him to recover, I would not let his illness swallow me up. With his strong encouragement, I would maintain my individuality and my goal.
We carried on with life, and he completed his treatments; fortunately, he had no discomfort from the therapy nor any symptoms and, as far as we know, he’s well now. During the days of his therapy, I would go to Bally in the morning, and we would go to Winship Cancer Center in the late afternoons.
Finally, for me and my program the waters ahead were smooth, and the summer began; Chris and I attempted to get me up but it didn’t happen, and we had to give up. To say we were dejected was an understatement!
For a couple of weeks, I contemplated the whole goal, my approach to working out and all the rest, eventually deciding that I would continue to work out because I liked the strength and stamina I had achieved but that, maybe the zing and pizzazz I was seeking in my life had passed me by.
Then, a close friend began goading me to complete the task. She was unrelenting (as I sometimes am with her) because, she believed I could do it and be seen as a role model for other women. She gently hounded me to provide her with a photo of me skiing, which she could include in an article titled Fit and Fabulous at each decade, beginning at 30. So, it finally occurred to me that I could look for a water ski coach with all the equipment to which I was accustomed, and I could actually achieve my goal.
After contacting Barron Barnes of Lake Lanier Water Ski Center and photographer Michael Pugh, the rest is history. On a lovely August day we all met and, not only did I get up on one ski, I took my first barefooting lesson! WooHoo! I found that my best self is still in this old body!!
My friend has her photo and I have my old self back. Through discipline, persistence, a fantastic support team and the grace of Almighty God, I walk tall now with strength, stamina and – most importantly – the exhilaration of knowing that I can still joyously face life head on, whether the wind blows before me or behind me. And I love being able to tell people what I’m doing now, instead of what I used to do. Slimmer, stronger and fitter, it’s much more fun to move in the stream rather than sit on the sideline!
I’m certainly no different from anyone else who’s retired or semi-retired – no different at all -- except that I did find the invisible bridge I could cross over to find myself again. I wanted to feel the way I used to in my prime and, if you can think back to remember when you felt that way and what made you feel that way, you will also be able to cross your invisible bridge.
Of course, it may sway a bit and you may step on a few splinters as you cross over it but, remembering back when you were powerful, you can recapture the strength to continue on to your best self. I wish you a steadily unwavering eye on your goal as you begin your journey!