I want to be like Don when I grow up
I met Don during a week’s skiing holiday in La Tania, in the French Alps. He was part of our group of eight sharing Chalet Chamille (rented out by Ski Hame). Don turns 89 in early April, yet he skied every day and the more I chatted to him, the more impressed I became.
If I can enjoy life, sports and good health as much as Don when I am in my late 80s I will feel very fortunate, as well as being extremely happy. I was so impressed by Don I’ve decided to dedicate a blog to him.
Skiing across the generations
My friends Andy and Fiona organised the trip. They invited Andy’s 17-year-old nephew Tom and his dad David, as well as Andy’s dad Bill and Bill’s friend Don. The G-Force and I brought the total to eight.
Across the age range, from teenager to middle-aged to 89, we enjoyed a superb group holiday during which time the chat flowed easily and we all skied every day.
La Tania, as I have written before, is a great base for a skiing holiday in the large linked skiing area called The Three Valleys, including Courchevel, La Tania, Méribel, Brides les Bains, Les Menuires, Saint Martin de Belleville, Val Thorens and Orelle.
There is a huge variety of pistes, graded from the easiest “green” to the toughest “black”. When there is fresh snow, the off-piste skiing terrain is vast.
Andy, Fiona, the G-Force and I embarked on a challenge known as the Escapade during our week of skiing. I will be blogging about that, too. Meanwhile, here’s my blog about Don.
Some of things I learned about Don, aged 89
Don took up skiing at the age of 68. He bought a pair of skis for £3 from a car boot sale and taught himself the basic techniques of the sport while holidaying with one of his sons, who was living in Austria at the time.
He didn’t see his age as a barrier to trying what many people might believe to be an extreme sport. It feels very refreshing to be reminded that being sporty is less about age and more about motivation, enthusiasm and determination.
Four years after his skiing trip to Austria, Don, aged 72, joined the Kendal Snowsports Club. He is the oldest member of the club and relishes this fact.
Don plays golf twice a week with his good friend Bill, aged 78. (Bill is a lovely, chatty, active and forward-thinking man in his late 70s.) Bill asked Don if he would like to go on a skiing holiday and Don was delighted to accept. “I didn’t think twice about my age,” Don told me, “although I did take the precaution of packing a few painkillers in case my knees became sore.”
Don skied every day with Bill, Bill’s son-in-law David, in his early 50s, and Tom, Bill’s grandson. They skied green, blue, red and black runs together.
Don did admit to feeling a bit tired on some days so he simply took himself back to the chalet on the ski bus for a “bit of a lie down”. He said: “Sometimes the skiing does make me a bit tired but that’s fine; I can accept that. I like to ski in the morning and sleep for a while in the afternoon, if possible. Being able to ski at all at my age is a bonus.”
After one morning of skiing, followed by a mountain restaurant lunch and a small beer, Don fancied a sit down in a deckchair in the sunshine. He told us later, with a glint in his eye, that he had to find his own way to get back out of the deckchair. He reported: “It was really quite funny. I was sitting so comfortably in the deckchair, feeling sleepy in the warm sun, but then I needed to get up again.
“However, I couldn’t get out of the deckchair because it was slung so low down. So I tipped myself forward and sort of sideways, landing on my hands and knees and then pushed myself upright from there.
“It’s the same when I fall over while skiing. That’s how I manage to get up again. I guess I am not as flexible as I once was. It probably does look quite funny when I do this though.”
(What is even funnier – and poignant – is that it doesn’t matter how old you are, the same technique is required to exit those pesky deckchairs. I liked that Don is so honest about how being older has affected him physically but that he can still laugh about it.)
Don wore a ski helmet. He thought it was sensible thing to do, but not simply because he is older. He has worn a ski helmet for many years. He observed that when he started skiing, some two decades ago, few people wore helmets, while these days almost everyone does.
Don is a warm, smiley and sociable person. I am sure his positivity, out-going nature and curiosity in the people and things around him are some of the reasons for his continued good health. He is mentally impressive, and so upbeat and happy. I think this is a good lesson for us all, regardless of age.
He has been very happily married to Pamela for more than 60 years. He told me this with great pride and commented on how very lucky he has been. “I still like spending time with Pamela, even after all these years, and I think she is beautiful and a wonderful wife. I have been very fortunate,” he said.
He told me his sons, Dean and Craig, both love him very much. He said this with no hint of irony. It was a fact that he happily acknowledged. He said all this with another smile and an even bigger sense of pride.
Don has a twin brother. His twin lives in Australia (where Don lived the first 20 years of his life). Don reports his brother is around half a stone lighter than him and “definitely fitter”, although the Australian sun has left him with a few more wrinkles. Don added: “My twin works out more than me, I think, but we’re still very similar and both very fortunate with our health. It’s amazing, really.”
Don never complained about his age during our skiing week. He mentioned, when asked, that he had a bit of a sore knee and an aching shoulder after a full day of skiing. He did suffer with leg cramps but he laughed his way through a couple of painful looking bouts. He said he can suffer with cramps if he drinks wine (he doesn’t drink much).
He said: “If I can make it up to the bedroom I’ll fetch my special tablets, Crampex. They work a treat.” (I have taken a note of the tablets because I also suffer from bad leg cramps despite being 40 years younger.)
As well as skiing and golf, Don enjoys art. He is the member of a local art club. He was delighted when I googled one of his favourite artists, Monet, and showed him some of his paintings on my phone. “Wow, they look so clear,” he said. “It’s amazing to see them with such clarity, don’t you think?”
He also likes photography and while he has mostly given up his old film-based SLTs for a compact digital camera he was very impressed and intrigued by the cameras on our smartphones. “They just look so simple to use,” he said. “And the picture quality is excellent. I’d like one of those I think.”
Indeed, Don was fascinated by our modern gadgets. He was endlessly amazed by the apps, the ease with which we now communicate on-line and social media. He wanted to learn about them rather than dismissing them as something he was too old for.
His greatest surprise came when we decided to “air drop” photos to each other across the table. He wanted to know how that happened, rather than simply accepting it as something new-fangled and unfathomable.
As I said, Don’s curiosity about people and life was wonderful to witness, and surely a benefit of his mental health.
Don revealed that he has tried many different sports throughout his life and he still enjoys keeping fit. He likes to be in good shape physically and does keep an eye on what he eats.
Don told me the three secrets of his long life. He said: “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink much alcohol and I am happy.” (Well, maybe he did tell me another secret to longevity but that’s not for this blog. You’ll need to ask him if you meet him…)
Don’s standing ovation
On the last day of skiing, our group met up for a long lunch in a mountain restaurant. We sat in the sunshine enjoying our food and drink. By this point, Don was familiar with such phrases as “can you air drop that to me”, “I’ve added it to Instagram”, “you can friend me on Facebook” etc.
He seemed very content after a long morning of skiing and what he called “the best of the holiday”.
A group of skiers at the next table got chatting to our group. They had been skiing together since university days and were now in their middle years. They had been wondering among themselves how long their skiing holidays might continue as they headed into their 50s.
When they heard Don was still skiing at 89 they gave him a standing ovation. They said that gave them so much hope of being able to ski together for another 30 or 40 years. Don was shocked but delighted to get so much attention.
That evening, when asked if he would like to return next year for a ski holiday, Don said he very much would. “It has been so enjoyable with everyone,” he said. “I have enjoyed meeting new people and all the skiing. I just have to hope I’m still here next year! If I am, I would love to ski again.” I would be shocked if he doesn’t head back to the Alps.
My hopes for my later years
I learned a lot from Don during the week, including looking forwards positively and without regret, being jolly, remaining physically active and staying mentally curious. I know there are others in their later years who are similar but it’s the first time I have skied for a week with an 89-year-old. I make my living from writing about extraordinary people in the great outdoors and Don certainly qualifies.
I hope this blog has inspired a few people to embrace their later years and to hopefully stay as active as possible. Don knows how lucky he is with his health and fitness – and I have my fingers crossed for the same good fortune when I grow up.