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The Inland Paddler: Age – It Really is Just a Number

Age Doesn’t Have to Stop us from Paddling

This month, I turn 54.  And while I firmly believe that age is indeed just a number, there are some undeniable truths about how your body deals with “things” the more trips around the sun it takes.

Simply put, injuries just don’t seem to heal as fast. Weight doesn’t come off the way it used to. Body shapes change. Things that never did now creak and catch. There are more niggling aches and pains.  So much so that I am also buying into the adage that if I didn’t wake up in the morning with something hurting, I’d think I was dead.

Sometimes it’s all I can do not to just put PJs on and take a nap and other times, I long for a full body, Wailuku River-style ice soaking.

Aches and Pains and More Aches and Pains

This paddling season, I seem to have sustained more stupid little injuries than ever before, despite taking great pains to avoid overtraining.  And while it’s been somewhat discouraging – to the point of making me wonder if my racing days are starting to come to an end – I am reminded that in comparison to the rest of the population, particularly my demographic, I am very, very healthy.

Case in point: I am the youngest person being treated at the wound care clinic at Raleigh’s UNC/Rex Hospital. Not only am I the youngest, the doctor and nurses say I am the fittest. The nurses literally coo’d over the state of my skin ulcer when they saw it today. The doctor told me I had done a great job with it. He told me the rate of it’s healing is a sign of my fitness. (I chose not to tell him that Coach Larry Cain had already told me that.) Most of the patients they see are not, nor have they ever been, active.  They have little incentive to really take care of themselves.  Many do not have the means. They live with chronic wounds that never heal.

When I start to complain about having to deal with the complications of my sup surfing injury, I think about those people. And I am reminded how lucky I am. All this time, I’ve been thinking it was taking way too long to heal.  Apparently not.

Getting back on the water, getting back in the lineup, has been my motivation for following doctor’s orders and being meticulous about wound care.  I don’t want to spend any more time than necessary on dry land.  I have waves to catch, gorges to run and Maliko’s to glide. Not being able to be my “normal” get-dirty-leave-the-salt-on self has been hard, for sure, but it’s made me value that part of of who I am and the life I have even more.

And I realized how being active and passionate about being on the water, and being outdoors- whether it’s, paddling, mountain biking, or climbing – has given me a good foundation upon which to build as I enter this next phase of living.

Living Proof

I saw what it did for my parents – especially my mum.  Up until their last day living on Maui in the mid-‘90s, she swam in the ocean. Serious open water master’s style swimming nearly every day. They sailed, hiked, fished, and once back on the Mainland, they even took up white water rafting. They remained active and relatively healthy well into their 80’s….Alzheimer’s notwithstanding. My sweet, beautiful mother, though her mind was shriveled, remained fit and full of energy, with minimal health issues almost to the very end.

Perhaps the edge we get from willingly and regularly putting ourselves through physical challenges -whether it’s the Harbor Island course at the Carolina Cup or Chattajack- gives us more of an advantage mentally to deal with those niggling little aches and pains. To deal with the mental aspect of getting older too.  As older athletes, maybe training for competitions gives us incentive to do extra things to take care of ourselves. Maybe it makes us more attentive, in ways we weren’t in our younger days.   Hopefully, we’ve learned some things along the way and/or have good coaches to remind us that it’s okay to adjust expectations and goals and find satisfaction in so doing.

Or maybe the promise of catching one more perfect, glassy wave, or connecting another string of bumps on a downwind run and the joy that inevitably follows is the motivation.  In the great surf movie “Step into Liquid” legend Gerry Lopez talks about how the ocean keeps pulling us back to have another moment…and it never ends.  I want more of those moments, so I want to do all I can to make sure I get them. I don’t want it to end. Ever.

Someone recently admonished me to “maybe rethink this surfing thing” upon hearing about my accident. Oh “haaaaaiiil no!” was my response.  If anything, I am more resolved to progress on the wave.  I’ve come too far to quit, and it’s too much fun.  Don’t believe me? Come on, I’ll show you. (Funny, those people never take me up on that offer…)

So here’s another adage to focus on:

You don’t quit paddling because you’re old, you are old because you quit paddling.

Boards up, y’all!

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