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by Carole Carson, AARP, December 04, 2008
When I decided to reinvent myself as a fit person, I had no idea what was involved. No high-minded principles guided me, nor did I adopt any particular program. My motives were not practical (for example, to improve my health). In fact, they were quite the opposite; I looked in the mirror and was too vain to accept the pudgy reflection. Only in retrospect can I understand what happened.
First, I made an unconditional decision to change my lifestyle. Then I got help—from professionals, a personal trainer, medical personnel, family, and friends.
Next, I managed my thinking, especially about food. Instead of being grim, I explored new ways of cooking, challenging myself to eat well within my caloric limitations.
The last step was discovering my latent athleticism. Somewhere along the exercise path, I stopped exercising to achieve its by-products: improved health, more energy, lower weight, and a shapely figure. Instead, I just wanted to improve. When practicing yoga, I wanted to improve my form. When working with weights, I wanted increased strength. When playing tennis, I wanted more consistency and a more effective serve. Before I knew it, I was "in training."
Initially I was self-conscious in tennis clinics, where many students were half my age. But the lure of becoming an athlete was irresistible, and I surrendered. Today, instead of having to exercise, I have to limit activity so my body can rest, especially when I have a sports injury, like the back pain that plagues me from time to time.
Imagine my delight when I read that Clarence Chaffee, the former tennis, soccer, and squash coach at Williams College, did not begin competing nationally until age 70. Chaffee collected numerous national "Super Seniors" tennis titles. Another example is Albert Gordon, a well-known businessman and philanthropist, who entered his first marathon at age 80, at which time he completed the London Marathon in six hours and 30 minutes.
I’m not aiming this high, but I do want to become the best tennis player, gym rat, and yoga student I can be, independent of external recognition. Seeing the improvement in my athleticism, after 40 years of being out of shape, is its own reward.
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