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Old dogs can learn new tricks

Published June 30. 2012 09:01AM

Sometimes, the Internet offers inspirational stories. The seventy-five year old bodybuilding grandma is one example.

Baltimore resident Ernestine Shepherd claims she was never athletic, didn't start exercising until she was almost 60 and didn't start body building exercises until she was 71.

Almost three years later, she won her first bodybuilding contest. Check out her amazing sculptured body on the Internet.

My friends and I stopped running years ago because our knees tell us "we're too old." True, we do brisk walking and lots of biking and other exercise. But we think we are past the age of being able to run like we used to do.

Ernestine claims she runs 10 miles every morning before she hits the gym. She calls exercise "the best anti-aging medicine."

I don't know her personally, of course, but I do know plenty of people who soared because they didn't fall into the "I'm too old" trap.

I just finished doing a newspaper story on a 78-year-old woman hailed by many as an incredibly talented musician. She plays 10 instruments, including the difficult hammered dulcimer and harp, and entertains audiences on a regular basis.

But for me, the amazing part of Ruth's story is that after she graduated from high school, she didn't play music for 40 years. She says she was too busy raising a family.

One day when she was 62 she saw a small notice that the local community college was offering a course in mountain dulcimer. "That was something I always wanted to do," she said, "Now that I had the time, I signed up for the course."

Most community colleges offer interesting classes of all kinds for adults. But few take advantage of the opportunity. Because Ruth did, her life opened up in new and unexpected ways. She now leads groups of other older musicians who just want to have fun.

If there's anything I have learned from all the amazing people I interview, it's that the most engaging people stop saying, "I always wanted to, but…" Instead, they just do it, regardless of age. Often, they are amazed at the results.

That's what happened with my new friend, Samantha. When her husband died, she found it was hard to fill her lonely hours. So she did something she always wanted to do. She bought some paints and canvas and started to paint landscapes.

Much to her surprise, the woman who never painted until she was 65 discovered she had a natural talent. She even won a top award at a juried art show.

When the social director of an upscale retirement center saw her paintings, she was impressed enough to offer Samantha a part-time job teaching painting at the retirement center.

The money helps, Sam says, and so does the social interaction she finds at the active center. But those twin benefits would never have come to her if she didn't first have the incentive to try something she had never done before.

Joe Mullen is someone who believes it's never too late to learn something new. He's probably the top kayaker in our area. He's so good, in fact, that few other kayakers can match his skill or endurance.

When our kayak club goes kayaking, we paddle for eight to 12 miles. Joe's version of kayaking sometimes involves paddling 15 hours a day for a 300-mile trip.

Yet, he never even sat in a kayak until he was 61. Now, at 81, he's kayaking as much as ever, serving as an inspiration to the rest of us.

While Joe was volunteering at a Learn to Kayak event, he took an 84-year-old gentleman kayaking for the first time. "He asked me if he was too old to kayak. I told him we're never too old to do what we want to do," said Joe.

The guy loved his kayaking trip so much that he bought his own kayak and now enjoys being on the water.

All around me I have people who demonstrate it's never too late to change your life. Three years ago, I met a really sad man who had lost his wife of 61 years. His daughter said her dad did nothing but sit in the house and wait to die.

After much coaxing and conjuring, they convinced him to come along when they went dancing. It was there that he met a woman who had also lost her longtime spouse. They didn't click because all he did was talk about his late wife.

But that little bit of dancing made him remember how much he used to love it. He worked up his courage to go by himself to a dance at the senior center.

Getting out of the house and back to dancing washed away Bill's sadness. It also did one other thing for him: It gave him to opportunity to meet Alice, a vivacious woman with an infectious laugh. Now, he tells me with a wide grin, Alice and he are "sweethearts."

Here's the kicker I didn't tell you. Bill is 91. He's proof positive that it's never too late to change your life or to find someone who adds spark to it.

Remember the old expression, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks?"

All around me I see examples of people who have found that's not true. They enriched their lives by trying new things and finding new joys instead of sitting home alone.

The next time you're tempted to say, "I always wanted to, but…." forget the but. See for yourself what happens if you just do it.

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