This weekend my mother is celebrating her eightieth birthday. She is as excited as a five year old in a party dress. All of her kids, the spouses, grand-kids and other hangers-on are all getting together for a week long party and Christmas at the beach. It is quite a celebration since five years ago we were told she only had four weeks to live.
Back then, my mom, who was an athlete and race director of the Santa Rosa Island Triathlon, was hospitalized with what seemed to be pneumonia.
Since the illness was not responding to antibiotics, doctors did additional tests that showed a type of autoimmune fibrotic process was continuing to take over her lungs. The doctors at the local Pensacola hospital gave my mom, who at the time had been very active riding her bike and swimming miles per week, four weeks to live.
We were shocked. This couldn’t be possible. Where was Dr. House and his team of hotshot diagnosticians? They weren’t in Pensacola but we found them at the University of Florida, and Shands Teaching Hospital sent a jet to pick her up and take her to Gainesville. Her pulmonary team did a biopsy and found that indeed she did have an autoimmune lung disease, but they determined it was a type of illness that could be treated with daily oral chemo and steroids – for the rest of her life.
She looked like hell when she first arrived at the hospital, a weak, little, frail looking women on the verge of death. But the hospital had no idea just who they were dealing with.
At the time, we never thought she would be able to live on her own. We had visions of oxygen tanks and nursing homes. But no, she wasn’t having any of that. And to our surprise, when she was released from the hospital she was able to go home. She worked like crazy in rehab, and before too long, she was back riding her bike and swimming again.
Last week, I wrote a post featuring a Ted Talk where Dr. Sackner-Bernstein explained how it’s never too late to do great things late into your life. In case you missed it, here’s the video again. This video held true in my life but also was true in my mothers life. She is a great role model for doing amazing things when you are older.
Dr. Sacker-Bernstien says that all of a person’s years of wisdom and experience combine to allow that person to see things that need to be done, and that they would not have seen if not for their own particular set of experiences. Some people then have the bravery to act on these insights.
My mom raised seven children, pretty much alone, since my dad, who was a Navy Pilot, was usually out at sea. When we all left home, my mom at age 50 started running. She discovered she was good at it, and took part in the local runners community. She also biked and swam, so triathlons were a natural progression for her. But it could have stopped there.
But it didn’t. At sixty, after never really having a J-O-B she started a triathlon. Why? Because she looked around and saw that there was this nice flat beautiful beach, that would be perfect for a tri. Mom had a lot of contacts and friends she could call on to help, and everything lined up to start this race.
Mom organized the race for fifteen years and my Dad, who was retired then and definitely not an athlete, joined in to help her. It was a big family event. All of her kids and spouses and grand-kids would gather during what was usually a glorious early October weekend to participate in some way or another, and those that got the athletic gene in our family would actually win their age groups.
There is a secret to staying young. My mother taught me this and I have found it to be true. Keep your eyes and mind open, stay active, be a yes person, and make and keep friends of all ages.
I am so happy my mom, Ann Knight is still with us and our whole motley crew is able to come together to celebrate her eightieth birthday.