Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown.
Lisa is a 71 year-old woman living in the Rapid City area. She grew up an “army brat” and spent her childhood in Germany, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and France. As a young girl growing up in different places, her family made sure to travel as much as they could in the area where they were stationed and also made a point to travel to see different local churches. Throughout her life, Lisa has remained an avid traveler, in addition to her time spent as a volunteer and athlete. Below is the interview where we discuss her life and aging (note: some things may have slightly edited for clarity).
Are you retired? What does your schedule and daily routine look like now?
I’ll probably never retire; I get bored much too easily. I’m generally up around 4:30, feed my three dogs, and head to the gym for an hour or so workout. I’m training for Spartan Races with my friend Julie this summer, and I’m of the age where if I don’t keep on top of myself I’ll have no strength or endurance. Then, five days a week, I volunteer at Station 6 of The Rapid City Fire Department, where I get to help people stay safe and prevent fires. At the end of the day I work with my youngest dog (a 5 month old Border Collie/Australian Shepard mix) who I’m hoping will become a search dog for Pennington County Search and Rescue. He is SO smart he’s a brat but he is also fun to work with! I’m also trying to get around to working on renovating a house in the Hills, and keeping up with the summer travels and visits to and of my kids and grandkids.
If I’m not doing that, I pretty well collapse and relax with my husband of 51 years.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Spartan Races? What do they entail?
Spartan Races are great races for pretty much anyone who doesn’t mind getting dirty, sore beyond belief and pretty well beaten up. Yes, I regularly wonder why I do this to myself, but there are always people to help you get through or over the obstacles, and the exhilaration and feeling of accomplishment is amazing. Each of the Spartan Races is longer and has more obstacles, but one thing they all have in common is burpees: if you cannot complete an obstacle (or if you choose to not do it), you must do 30 burpees. There are undoubtedly races that are more technically difficult and more strenuous, but I do not know of another one that has burpees. Some of the obstacles at each race are a 15-20 foot rope climb (with a very wet and muddy rope), at least one 250-ft or more Army crawl under barbed wire – sometimes this is in the water, sometimes it is just exceptionally muddy, and in one race it is in snow – walls from six-foot to ten-foot high, monkey bars and their even more difficult offspring, balancing stumps, log carry, sand bag carry up and down hills or through swampy water or mud, and hills, hills, hills, some of which are so steep you need a rope to help you climb them. The best way to understand what a Spartan Race is made of is to watch one on YouTube.
The races come in three lengths/difficulties. The first is the Sprint, which is anything from three to six miles long, with at least 20 obstacles; the second is the Super, which is eight to maybe 14 miles long and 25+ obstacles; the last is the Beast, which is just that. It is a laughable 12+ (normally several more) miles long with at least 30 obstacles. And remember the burpees for each obstacle you can’t complete.
How did you get into Spartan Races?
My middle son Joshua dared me to run an obstacle course race (not a Spartan) knowing that I rarely turn down a dare. It went from there. I have run other races, and after a couple more seasons I’m probably only going to do those – but there is something about being the top person in your age group at a Spartan race (even if it is because you are the ONLY person in that age group!).
What advice would you give to other older adults who want to do Spartan races or do similar rigorous physical activities.
The first thing I would do is find a sports doctor who doesn’t see you as old. Many doctors don’t seem to realize that even those of us under the age of 90 still like to be daring. Then set your mind to making yourself strong, agile, and well-balanced, and then do it! Close your mind to your friends (and others) who tell you that you are crazy (I tell them that at least I KNOW I’m crazy) and that you are too old; these same people will also tell you that women over the age of 50 should only have short hair. I’m not trying to be 31 again, but I want to be strong, healthy, have a good sense of balance, and be able to get around as much and wherever I want.
There are books that teach how to do obstacle course racing, but there are also all sorts of good work-out programs to just get you in shape. You do not have to get up at some beyond-ridiculous early hour, but you do need to be consistent, keep moving, stretch yourself, expect to hurt (we do anyway), and take care of yourself.
One thing I want to make people very aware of: I do obstacle courses; I do not do stupid. I will quit if it becomes unsafe enough.
Can you tell us some about your experience as a volunteer?
I’ve volunteered for most of my adult life. I spent many hours volunteering for the American Red Cross in Illinois, teaching, raising money, recruiting and developing volunteers, and writing the Red Cross portion of the Illinois Plan for Radiological Accidents when Illinois had something like seven active nuclear power plants. I volunteered in the schools my kids attended, with Scouts, and probably a lot of other places I’ve forgotten. I was a volunteer fire fighter and EMT in Illinois for eleven prior to moving here. I’ve held down ‘regular’ full-time jobs, of course, but as long as I can volunteer, I will do so.
I also spent several years volunteering with llama rescue organizations, which was a lot more involved than much of the other volunteering I’ve done. I would go to wherever the llamas (and alpacas) were located, capture them, and transport them to my place, get them healthy and reasonably friendly, and then take them to other llama rescue farms where they were trained and found new homes.
Right now, I volunteer pretty much full-time at the fire department, with Pennington County Search and Rescue, and have spent some wonderful time with a group of very special girls while volunteering for Girls on the Run.
What made you decide to work with these organizations?
If I see a need and I know it is something I can do (physically, mentally, and emotionally), I’ll see about volunteering. Each of the organizations I’ve spent much time with has benefitted children, elders, and/or animals. I admire people who can do other things, but I do know my limits and I’m not going to put anyone or myself in a position that is untenable.
What advice or tips would you have for older adults looking to volunteer? What about organizations looking to recruit older adults?
The first thing I would find out about myself is where my passion lies. Volunteering has definite ups and down (and its own share of “burpee situations”), and you have to have a passion to carry you through. Complete the necessary research to make sure you can do what is being asked (remember: physical, mental, and emotional). Then go for it!
How do you believe you have aged?
Some mornings I feel like I must have been Methuselah’s mentor, and other days I feel like I can climb a 14-er mountain (note: mountain 14,000 feet or more), but not very often for either. I am exceptionally fortunate to have a passion for living a long time and doing a lot; there’s always something new to learn and a path that meanders off into the future. I tell people my ADHD won’t let me slow down long enough to die. Mostly I just want to keep active and live two years longer than my father, who died at age 100.
What behavior do you attribute to this?
I still have places to go and things to see. I love empty roads and trails that stretch into nothingness; they call to me. And learning new ideas or skills keep me going. I go back to not doing stupid: when it is time to quit I will, but certainly not a day sooner. I’ve not even been to the top of Black Elk yet!
I really think it is attitude as much as behavior.
What belief, behavior, or habit, adopted within the last five years, has most positively impacted your life? (Note: taken from the Tim Ferriss podcast)
It isn’t a belief, behavior, or habit, but a person. My father was in charge of his life and his death (a long story) and I want to be the same. I could say it is his beliefs and behaviors, because he was a very strong influence on me.
What are some goals you have that you would still like to accomplish?
Two for sure: I want to see the gorillas in Africa, which will have put me physically on every continent in the world. I also want to see the ‘holy triangle’ of St Michael’s Mount in southern England, Lindisfarne in northern England, and Mont St. Michel in France. I’ve been to all three separately, but this will be a trip that starts in the US on July 4, includes walking to each from the shore (they are islands), and ending up in Paris on July 15 for Bastille Day. Did I say I love fireworks? And I’m pretty sure there is a third goal out there that I simply don’t know about yet.
To read more articles about people embracing their encore adulthood and aging their way, view Aging Their Way: Interviews With Older South Dakotans.
Disclaimer: SDSU does not endorse the links in this article. They were only included in the article to provide context for the reader.