Role Models, We Salute You!
Meet some notable elders who lead by example.
If we keep exercising, thinking happy thoughts, and eating our kale, we are likely to have another decade or two of living ahead of us. This is new territory. There isn’t a good road map to tell us what we are supposed to do with all this bonus time.
Luckily, we can look to a few examples of people who have been there ahead of us. Here are just a few role models to inspire us.
The Final Frontier
William Shatner, who wasn’t an astronaut but played one on TV, became the oldest person to be blasted into space last October when he rode a rocket 66 miles above the earth. Shatner was 90. To do it, the actor known for playing Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise had to endure intense gravitational forces on the voyage up and again coming down. Shatner emerged none the worse and positively ecstatic about the experience.
He actually was the second elder in space. Wally Elder, who was turned down by NASA in the 1960s, flew the same suborbital route last July. She was only 82.
High Tech Designer
Barbara Beskind became something of a celebrity, as she tells it, when word got out that someone in their 90s was on the payroll of a Silicon Valley company – and a woman, at that. Several years ago Beskind saw the founder of IDEO talk about the importance of diversity on design teams creating new products and services. She sent him a letter, offering her services. IDEO, which wanted to develop products for aging Baby Boomers, took her up on it. Hired at age 89, she worked for the company for five years, contributing an elder’s perspective to designs for contact lenses, walkers, and products to help elders maintain good balance while walking.
In her teens Beskind had wanted to be an inventor, but that was too unconventional a path at that time. Instead she pursued two other careers – first as an occupational therapist in the Army, then in her own private practice. She holds six patents for inflatable devices that help children who have balance issues.
Late Starter Sets a Quick Pace
Last November Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins set a world record for the 100-meter run at the Louisiana Senior Olympics. Her recorded time was 1:02.95 – not too shabby for a 105-year-old sprinter. Hawkins, however, confessed to disappointment. “I wanted to do it in less than a minute,” she said.
After retiring from a teaching career, Hawkins started competing in athletic competitions when she turned 80. She has won several gold medals in cycling. She took up sprinting when she turned 100. “I love to run, and I love being an inspiration to others,” she said after her record-setting performance. “My message to others is that you have to stay active if you want to be healthy and happy as you age.”
A Recording Contract
A child prodigy, American pianist Ruth Slenczynska performed her first concert at age 6 (in Berlin) and made her Paris debut the following year. That was 90 years ago. In January, the 97-year-old concert pianist signed a deal with the Decca Classics record label to produce a solo album later this year. The last living student of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, she has had an extraordinarily long professional career.
Author and Blogger
Thelma Reese, 89, went from teaching third graders to becoming a college professor, all before her “early retirement.” But she was just getting warmed up. In the last three decades, she created the Advisory Council for Hooked on Phonics and was its spokesperson. She directed the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy for the City of Philadelphia and hosted a cable show. She founded the Philadelphia Young Playwrights, chaired the board of the Children’s Literacy Initiative, and organized the 1994 World Symposium on Family Literacy for UNESCO in Paris.
Yes, but what has she done lately, you ask? Ten years ago she created a blog, www.ElderChicks.com, and she has been co-author of three recent and relevant books: The New Senior Woman: Reinventing the Years Beyond Mid-Life, The New Senior Man: Exploring New Horizons, New Opportunities, and most recently, How Seniors Are Saving the World: Retirement Activism to the Rescue.
We’ll be making a major announcement next Saturday about the future direction of The EndGame. Be on the lookout: it’s coming to an in-box near you!