“What’s your five year plan,” the doctor asked Helen.
“What do you mean, my five year plan, I’m 80.”
“Everyone needs a five year plan. I think you need to start strength training.”
“WHAT! I’m 80!”
“No excuses–let’s find you a trainer.”
That’s how I came to do strength training with 80-year-old Helen. Helen had accepted that frailty, disease and disability were a natural part of the aging process, but Helen had a can-do attitude and was willing to give strength training a try. I came to love and admire Helen’s spirit. Helen and her husband traveled the world. She had gotten to the point that if there were stairs on a tour, she would sit on a bench and wait for the others and bypass the cathedral or whatever site was on the agenda. It was a shame she had to always be on the sidelines and miss so much beauty because of the limitations of her body.
Helen had also given up going places by herself because if there were stairs, she wasn’t able to manage them. As Helen became stronger, she lost her fear of going places by herself and became much more independent.
After strength training for two years, Helen slipped and fell and broke her hip. The doctors were amazed how much muscle she had in her hips and legs. In fact, they said any other 82 year old would probably be dead from such a fall. But Helen was a warrior—when life knocked her down, she got right back up.
Helen called me one day very upset. “They kicked me out of therapy,” she said. “What do you mean–they kicked you out of therapy?” I replied. “The doctor approved me for twenty sessions and they kicked me out after only two sessions. They said I met all the criteria of activity for an average 82-year-old.” I had to laugh, “Well, Helen, they don’t understand that you’re not the average 82-year-old.”
When Helen was 84, she and I and two of my friends went and stayed at a villa in the south of France. Helen was concerned that she would slow the “girls” down”, but Helen was the life of the party. There was no more sitting on the sidelines for Helen on this trip! She kept right up with the rest of us.
The trip also proved to be an opportunity to learn more about Helen’s life. She was full of wisdom and grace. She shared with us that she had lost her son to AIDS. We all wondered how a mother survived such a loss. “I kept myself busy—I even started taking piano lessons to keep my mind occupied. On the advice of a friend, I set aside one day a week to cry and grieve. I found out it was hard to cry all day—life went on.”
“Thank you,” Helen said at the end of our trip, “I never thought I could have so much fun again at my age.”
No, Helen, thank you. You proved that even at the age of 80, a warrior doesn’t give up.
At 85, the doctor once again asked, “OK, Helen, what’s your five year plan?” This time Helen had an answer.
Everyone needs a five year plan—what’s yours?