Way back in the Army and then later on as a cop, I never thought about my age much. I only thought about what it felt like to have all the time in the world. Because, back then, I was young. Meaning that I was a long way away from being old. And if you would have asked me back then, “How old is old?”, I would have told you that old was 55 years of age. Because 55 was the age that almost everyone retired at. And the younger version of me understood why that was. There are physical requirements that come with those jobs. It’s hard to imagine a typical 55-year-old on the march into battle or taking a violent suspect into custody. So sure, it made sense that there would be an age when one would have to leave those kinds of vocations. And that age was 55. Therefore, 55 was, officially… old.
And I think to some extent I must have internalized that premise. But, as the obvious milestone birthdays came and went; 30, 40, and even 50, the one thing I couldn’t help but notice is that they didn’t make me feel like they were “supposed” to. You know what I mean, people of a certain age start to slow down. They just do. After all, how many people bring up their age as the reason they stopped doing such-and-such? You’ve heard them. They say things like, “Well, I’m 50 now. It’s not like I can be out running 10Ks…” [NOTE: The term 10K can be substituted for almost anything active, enjoyable and meaningful.]
So why all this talk about 55? Because this is the year that I hit that particular milestone. I am now just a few weeks away from being officially… old. And 55 does feel different from those other birthdays. I think it’s because I had come to associate it with the age of retirement from the warrior professions. When men and women of action must move on, because, statistically-speaking, they’re no longer up to the rigors of that life. So I have found myself a bit more reflective than usual. What does 55 mean? Does it mean something significant will change? Has it already?
With this reflection comes a certain amount of self-assessment and comparative analysis. Just how would 30 or 40 year old me stack up against the current version? The answer is encouraging. The current version of me is actually physically stronger than either of those earlier models. Much of this I attribute to having learned a lot about training in the past 20 years. And it also helps that I no longer worship at the ‘altar of cardio’ and I consume much better quality food now than when I was doing shift-work.
And as I dig further, I have to acknowledge simple facts like my entry-point into the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe it or Not both happened after I turned 50. So, speaking from a strictly perceptual perspective, whatever 55 is “supposed” to feel like, it’s not something that I’m feeling. Other than the face, which looks like it’s been beaten with a sock full of nickles*, there’s not much else that gives me the sense that 55 is remotely close to how I feel.
Now, me not feeling 55 is not a testament to how awesome I am. It’s purely the result of good fortune. True, I train hard. But so do a lot of people. And many other people would like to; people with physical limitations who cannot train. So even though it’s hard work, it’s work I am blessed to be able to pursue. It’s also true that I’ve trained myself back from several very significant injuries. But, if any of those injuries had been even slightly more significant, then no amount of work would have been sufficient to bring me back. Again, I’m just grateful rather than amazing.
I am not uncommon. I merely do an uncommon thing. I keep going. I keep going in a culture that does not encourage this. A culture defined by messages like, “Take it easy. Don’t get too carried away.” Never stopping. That’s been my secret secret. And I will keep going. And I will continue to consider each day that I can physically do what I want, with passion and intensity to be a gift. As well as each night.
So, what does 55 mean to me? Now that I’m just about there, it doesn’t really mean anything. And I prefer it this way. 55 had been an arbitrary milepost that I built into something more because I had subscribed to the criteria of the average instead of setting my own. And based upon my own criteria, I don’t feel as though I’m slowing down. I still feel as though I’m revving up. There’s still much left to do and to discover.
I hope you’ll join me on the journey.
[*Credit for the “nickles” comment goes to the inimitable W. Hock Hochheim]