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Octogenarians discover Fountain of Youth

Published July 17. 2010 09:00AM

When I was kid, my parents stressed to me that it was important to pick your friends wisely because whom you surround yourself with has a great influence over your life.

I've always found that to be true. My friends teach me a lot about life. Lately, some have taught me not to be leery of aging because every stage of life has its own sweet rewards.

Let me introduce you to two extraordinary octogenarians, Harry, who just turned 80, and Tom, who will soon be 82.

Harry celebrated his 80th birthday on May 14 by going on a 100-mile bike ride with his wife, Sue.

"There's a tradition with cyclists celebrating a birthday to ride one mile for every year. I did 100 miles instead of 80, so when I turn 100, I'll have 20 miles to my credit," jokes Harry, showing the low-key sense of humor that makes him so much fun to be around.

"Riding 100 miles is nice," he says, "but it's nothing that phenomenal."

Try telling most people that biking 100 miles is "nothing phenomenal."

"Some say it's too hot to ride but we ride every day, at least 40 or 50 miles," says Harry, who is trim with the hard, lean muscles of all serious bikers.

Remarkably, he didn't start serious biking until he was almost 70. He biked when he was a kid but that was about it.

A lot of people think about trying a new activity, but say, "I'm too old." Seeing all the fun Harry is having in life could teach others a thing or too.

When I look at the great shape he and Sue are in, I am motivated to stay physically active. I'll never be a long distance bike rider like Harry, but he sure does motivate me to get out there and push myself more.

Harry calls Sue "his trophy wife" because she's a mere 70, ten years his junior. It's a second marriage for both and it's fun to be around them because they obviously have so much fun together.

They met at an organized bike ride and soon learned they had a lot more in common than natural athletic ability and a passion for cycling. The more time they spent together, the more they realized how well suited they were for each other.

When they were quietly married last November 20, Harry was 79 and Sue was 69. Prime Time. I think of couples like Sue and Harry when I hear someone say, "I'll never find anyone."

But Sue did have to learn some new tricks in order for them to have a happy union.

"When we first got together, he told me any gal of his would have to ride a motorcycle. I was never on one before," says Sue. On her first motorcycle trip, she recalls looking at the stars thinking, "This is kind of cool."

They've travel about 8,000 miles a year on their Harley and thousands of other miles on their bikes.

"It's not easy being married to Superman," jokes Sue.

In addition to their other activities, Harry and Sue play competitive Trivial Pursuit each Tuesday, keeping their minds conditioned as well as their bodies.

Superman and his bride are spending the next few months "living out of a tent somewhere up north."

It's just one of the many ways they stay young.

Are they inspirational, or what?

Another remarkable octogenarian is my friend, Tom.

"There's something psychological about the Big 8-0," he says. "Seventy-nine is just another birthday, but 80 sounds old."

Happily, he says he feels far from old. In many ways, he thinks this stage of life is "better than ever."

"I felt older when I turned 40 than I do now," he says. "Back then, I was so serious - serious about my life and serious about my career as a pharmacist. Now, I'm having much more fun and enjoying life much more," he says.

He is serious, though, about his involvement in civic and community activities. He's been "a mover and shaker" all his life, and still is.

A long- range visionary, he organized new groups devoted to solving crucial local issues. How many people do you know who sit back and complain about "how things are?" Tom works hard to do something about it.

"I believe it's important to be involved in what's going on and to plan for the future," he said. "Much of what I'm doing won't be finished in my lifetime but it's satisfying to know the work I'm doing now will benefit future generations."

Meanwhile, he's enjoying life immensely, combining a sense of adventure with a penchant for trying new things. A few months ago we took him kayaking for the first time. At 80, he found a new passion.

I should say he found one of several new passions. He took up ballroom dancing three years ago and now goes dancing several times a week.

A few months ago he started a new chapter in his life by slipping an engagement ring on the finger of my friend, Wanda.

"Wanda brings fun to my life," he says. "She's always laughing; always enjoying life. Life is so much richer when you have someone like that by your side."

My friends have found the Fountain of Youth by staying active, both physically and mentally; by keeping themselves challenged with new pursuits and by sharing life with a soul mate who adds to life's pleasures.

"You know that old saying, 'It's a Wonderful Life?'" asks Tom. "Well, it's especially good now."

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