As I sit down to write this blog the day before the Fourth of July, it seems appropriate to break from the norm of our on-going Longevity Planning series to celebrate America and today’s amazing ‘Super Seniors’ who are not only redefining aging — but embracing what America represents by continuing to inspire others through their (and our) pursuit of excellence.
Many of you likely know that much of my work has focused on changing the image of aging from one of automatic decline to that of good health and vitality through the pursuit of new ideas, goals, and adventures. I started my career 30+ years ago by sharing a new story on aging and profiling ‘Super Seniors’ and their experience and insight on how and why they pursued some of the unique things they did … all while at an age when most never thought such activities were even possible.
One such example occurred last month on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 1944) where a number of survivors of that World War II epic assault were in France for ceremonies honoring and remembering both what was won — and lost during that daring invasion. On the front page of our local paper — and I imagine countless other newspapers across the country, was the picture of WWII veteran Tom Rice, 97, a former paratrooper who took part in a tandem parachute jump over France to commemorate the allied landings in Normandy. Yes … at the age of 97!
As a three-time generation native of San Diego, I, as well as our town, takes great pride in the many retired service, veteran and military folks who reside here — and Tom Rice is one of them. His spirit and can-do attitude exemplifies exactly what this Super Senior idea represents. In fact, when asked by a reporter how it went after completing this extraordinary feat Tom replied, “It went perfect! I feel great. I’d go up and do it all again.”
As a retired high school teacher, who taught high history for over 40 years, re-enacting that early morning Normandy jump was not Rice’s first rodeo, so to speak. He actually started doing tandem jumps several years ago to honor those who never came home — and also because he’s someone “who always liked adventure,” he told the local newspaper. Which is why he claims he joined the 101st Airborne Division in the first place, he said.
Clearly one of the secrets to accomplishing such an extraordinary feat at Rice’s age requires more than just a positive mindset. To prepare for this jump, he worked out at local Crossfit gym to build up his strength. Plus, as he told reporter John Wilkens, he hopes to keep making D-Day jumps until he is 101, a nod to the number of his fabled Airborne Division.
“I represent a whole generation,” he said. And not only one of the greatest generations – but the war-time generation is one of the most resilient generations. And resilience is identified as one of the key attributes to being both a ‘Super Senior’ and aging well.
On a lighter note but equally inspiring is the story of Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins, who just last week at the age of 103, became not only the oldest competitor at the 2019 Senior Games but also the oldest woman to compete on an American track after finishing the 50- and 100-meter dashes at the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, N.M.
While this Louisiana resident already holds the world record for her age group in the 100-meter dash, she now holds the Senior Games record for the 50-meter dash because she’s the first to compete in that category!
Like Rice, she too is a retired school teacher and says a combination of things keep her going – from yard work around her home in Baton Rouge to the competition itself.
“I keep active all the time,” she said. “I have an acre of land I work on all the time and I’ve got 30 bonsai bushes – some which are 40 or 50 years old — so all that keeps me busy.”
This grandmother of three and great-grandmother of one started cycling competitively in her 80s by participating in the Senior Olympics. When she became the only competitor in her division, her children suggested she try running. And while that may sound like a crazy idea, Julia thought that being she’s always outside when the phone rings and comes running in to answer it – she knew she could run, and therefore looked forward to the new challenge.
Believe it or not, Julia didn’t even start competitive running until she was 100 – and thought ‘it’d be neat to do the 100 at 100!’ While her knees, back and hips feel fine, it’s her eyesight that troubles her a bit now – which also made her mountain biking a little difficult – but she continues to keep the positive, can-do spirit and just hopes she can continue to see well enough to stay within the white lines on the track!
Resilience is also a key trait among Super Seniors and aging well, and it’s a part of Julia too. After graduating with a teaching degree from Louisiana State in 1938 (where she met her future husband, Murray Hawkins), she taught school in Honduras while he served in the Navy. But after surviving the bombing of Pearl Harbor, this WWII veteran asked Julia to marry him.
Julia says eating right and not drinking or smoking has helped her longevity. But today she says she has a simple goal, “To inspire people to be healthy and to realize that we can keep doing new things even at this kind of age!”