86 years young, a senior athlete, a lover of life and a friend. from Tony Schmiesing on Vimeo.

I’m fortunate in my life to have many people I can look to for inspiration, but my friend Shirley is indeed one of the oldest at 86 years young. I only mention her age, because, well, she’s living proof that age, while indeed a marker of time of sorts, is a nebulous marker at best.

I met Shirley almost 7 years ago when I first started working out at the track. I had seen her and her friend Thelma (91) racewalking, and I thought; “Wow, okay, newbie or not, quadriplegic or not, I’m gonna have to bring it out here”. And, yeah, yeah, they were younger then — spring chickens — but these were some seriously committed hard-core, bad ass women.

But intimidating as their routine was (yes, they were and still are faster than me; a very humbling fact), they are truly sweethearts, always breaking from their workouts to chat, and we’ve become fast friends.

I’ve had amazing conversations with Shirley about life, loss, health, commitment, death, the politics of senior athletics (and you think FIFA and the Olympic Committee can be controversial), and all of them resonate deeply.

Again, age — for so many reasons — is a strange one, but undeniably there’s something very cool about being around on this planet as a human for 80+ years: engaging, accumulating and sharing the gift of life with others.

So if we treat ourselves right in mind, body and soul, along with a bit of good fortune, we will find, as I have in my life, that previously believed paradigms regarding age (and disability in my case) just don’t apply. We see this all around us, we read about it, etc., but having a friend like Shirley in one’s life is a great way to drive the point home.


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