In modern American society, people are like Avocados. We spend several years being told we’re not old enough for anything, then suddenly we’re too old. Are we ever just right?
Several years ago, in my late 20’s, I nervously approached Wendell Broussard at the climbing gym, and asked him if I could go climbing with him. I offered to carry the rope and I promised to bring cookies; the two best ways I knew of to secure a climbing partner I didn’t deserve. Wendell took pity on me and said yes, probably because of the cookies. Later that week I watched a man who was 6’4”, over 250 lbs, and who has fingers the size of bratwurst sausages delicately dance his way up a 10c finger crack with what appeared to be no effort at all. He was 74 at the time, and had been a climbing legend in Las Vegas for longer than I’d been alive. I struggled to follow him up that route on top rope.
A few years later I was working with the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort..and decided it was time I learned to ski. So I arrived for my first ski lesson and was introduced to a tall, tan, smiling Swiss man who I was told was the best skier on the mountain. He lived there, off-grid, and after shoveling out his driveway every morning, would hike to the top of Chair 2 before the lifts opened and ski down to warm up. Halfway through my second lesson, he took off his glove and revealed a cast on the arm he’d broken the day before when a wayward snowboarder plowed into him. He then skied backwards down the mountain in front of me, gently coaching me through my terror of tree impacts, for the rest of the day without complaint. Marcel was 81 at the time and to this day remains the best skier on the mountain.
We’re taught that Wendell and Marcel are exceptions. We use language that we think is complementary, when in fact it’s patronizing and limiting. “It's so incredible that he's still doing this at his age.” We've internalized the implied message, that being a badass after 50 is abnormal. It's extraordinary, and not something that any of us can actually accomplish.
The truth is that Wendell and Marcel are only exceptions if we allow them to be. Perhaps we should think of them as examples instead. Try this on for size:
Age is not an impairment. It is not a disease. It is not a disability. Age is the result of a successful life. It is an accomplishment that should be celebrated because the alternative is death. If the saying is true, that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, then by the time you’re 80 you should be pretty dam tough.
There is no reason that someone in their 50s, or 60s, or 70s, or 80s, or even 90s, can't or should not learn to rock climb. Saying that you're too old, or too weak, to climb is like saying you're too hungry to eat or too tired to sleep. It's an illogical assumption based on misconceptions about the sport, and about our own capabilities.
Rock climbing is an excellent way to stay younger, healthier, happier, and independent for longer. Plus, it's safer than riding a bike or stepping out of a wet shower. You'll get stronger, and gain better balance, flexibility, and coordination. You'll also stay sharper and are less likely to develop memory problems or other cognitive impairments. It's also a great way to stay socially active and make new friends.
Will there be challenges in learning to climb later in life? Sure. There are always challenges. You might have to warm up more and even do yoga. If you have joint problems then it's probably a good idea to start on top rope. Listen to your body. Eat right. You might not whip through the grades like a 10 year old made of jet fuel and rubber, but you'll accomplish what you previously thought was impossible in almost no time at all. And you'll have a heck of a good time doing it.
So put on your boots, stretch out your back, and get busy livin already. You're wasting daylight.
Wan’t some beta on getting started? Join us every Tuesday at 10 a.m. for a Senior Meet Up. You can learn the ropes with other adults 50+. It’s free for members and first-timers.
This post is dedicated to all the salty old farts and badass old broads who have, and will always, climb and ski harder than me.
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