I got a different and somewhat mean-spirited question a couple of weeks ago. “What are you trying to prove?” What do you mean? “I mean all this biking stuff and it always seems like you’re doing something … hiking, traveling. It seems like a man your age should start slowing down.”
Before I could craft an answer, he added “and another thing — isn’t it about time for you to retire?”
I really don’t think this person was being terribly unkind. I think it is a cultural thing. I believe that in his culture, that’s what you do: When you hit a certain age, it’s time to slow down. Sit on the porch. Watch life go by.
“I mean, don’t you think it is time for you to get out of the way so some younger person can have your job?” OK. That one hit all my buttons.
I wasn’t unkind in my response but it was a bit awkward. How do you defend a lifetime of being active? How do you defend 41 years in your job without plans to end it any time soon? So I didn’t. Sort of.
A few days later, I was mountain biking with a best bud and told him the story. His life mirrors mine in many ways. He definitely lives a robust life, unencumbered by candles on a birthday cake.
We chatted about the “why” of leading an active lifestyle. For me, it started with my dad’s first heart attack. If you read this space often, you’ve heard the story before. I tell it too often. But it’s also what has driven me along the way.
On days when I might not feel like exercising or making the right decisions about my health, I remember my dad’s life after 45 — limited because of a bad heart. I knew for certain that I didn’t want that.
I can remember the stories of my dad, unable to attend my football games because of that bad heart, sitting by the radio listening to the game and crying because he couldn’t be there.
This grief about an active lifestyle isn’t something that is new to me. I can remember the lunch room at the factory where I worked during college summers. The guys there would make fun of my insistence on whole wheat bread, lean meat, fruit, and vegetables. And it was almost sacrilege not to drink sodas.
To be honest, I discovered that it was a lot easier to stick with it if it was fun. I had a serious Basketball Jones (ask somebody who grew up in the early 70’s). I’ve pretty much always owned a backpack and a bicycle. When my kids were growing up, we did everything. We were outdoors all the time.
I remember thinking that it would be cool to be playing basketball until I was 50. I kept playing until my right knee wouldn’t let me. I was 59. My wife loves to hike so I love to hike. The bicycle … well, you’ve heard that story too much.
I have health issues. I couldn’t escape my gene pool. I see my primary care physician regularly and take a handful of pills every day. But that doesn’t slow me down unless I let it.
So the obvious answer to the “why” about an active lifestyle might also be “because I can.” But that’s not exactly true either. My bike buddy put it best while we were deep in the woods on mountain bikes, having a great time. “It’s not because we can, but because we want to.”
I’m not out to prove anything. I’m doing the things that I want to. I can do those things because I have led an active lifestyle. I can do those things because I refuse to allow birthdays dictate what I do.
I do things like fly down a mountain trail on the back of a bicycle like a 20-something because it is fun. Because I want to. And I’ll continue working until I’m ready not to work anymore simply because I want to.