Ann Ledesma: Defying Age Norms

November 24, 2011


By Denise Lodge

Ann Ledesma is defying age norms. At 77, she is more active than many people in their twenties, works full-time, and lives life outside the typical boundaries.

Fitness: The Fun Way

Ann has been roller skating “since she could walk”; for her, it “is the closest thing to flying.” These days, she usually roller skates for one-and-a-half to two hours per day, weather permitting. When she began, “little was known about the aerobic zone, runner’s high, and endorphins.” Yet she found that when she skated, she “came up above” the trials she has faced.  In her words, she “became a bird.”

Ann specifies that when she skates, she does everything she can to protect her bones.  She never skates “without helmet, knee guards, wrist guards and elbow guards,” and she takes a combination of “calcium-magnesium-boron, as well as vitamin D and strontium.” She has had some crashes on her skates over the past few years, “but nothing worse than some contusions resulted.” In Ann’s words, “so far, so good!”

Roller skating is not Ann’s only activity of choice.  She became interested in snowshoeing after reading about it in a fitness magazine.  She says, “it’s a great winter sport, because anyone who can walk can do it, as long as they’re in reasonably good cardio-pulmonary shape.” Ann is also a self-described “gym rat”; she works out on the bike, the elliptical, and the rower, “with a moderate free-weight program.”

In Ann’s words, “fitness is about feeling good, at whatever age and whatever condition.” She says “it’s worth every ounce of effort put into it.” She finds that “as each generation ages, the prophets of doom predict that health costs will […] be staggering,” but that “it doesn’t have to be that way.  It’s up to everyone to do their best to stay reasonably healthy as long as possible.” Considering this, Ann sees “fitness as a moral imperative, but one that happens to feel terrific.” Her positive nature asks, “how great is that?”

Age: Just a Number?

Photo by Patti Sapone.

For Ann, aging is “like most things,” in that “it’s what you make it.”  However, she warns not to underestimate it.  She says aging is not “just a number”; aging is something to be fought, to be defied, because “if you let it, [aging] will slowly rob you of everything dear and precious.”  She lives life without inviting aging in as if it were “an honoured guest.” Instead, she recommends spitting in its eye. How does she do that? She rocks a Mohawk hairstyle.

Changing Culture

We asked Ann if there is anything she would like to change about the culture of older adults. She replied, “just about everything.” However, she does see a trend of Boomers achieving cultural change, and says, “good on ʼem!” For example, ads targeted to Boomers portray strong people in great shape, “full of energy, playing sports, working, starting businesses, dressed smart and trendy.”  However, looking at the ads directed to her own generation, Ann sees people portrayed as “shapeless [and] drab, outfitted in rejects from a 1950s garage sale” being told they can’t get up if they fall down, can’t hold their water, and can’t make it up their own stairs. In her words, “Can’t. Can’t. Can’t.” She views “this kind of conditioning [as] lethal,” and perceives that most of her generation has “swallowed it hook, line and sinker.”

She sees her generation as an oppressed group “complicit in its own oppression.”  One example of this complicity is the embracing of the phrase “Senior Moment.” “Balderdash!” says Ann. In reply to such sentiment, Ann asserts, “work your memory like you work your body (if you do).” She recommends watching out for sentences that start with “at this stage of our lives, we’ve decided to stop/ having pets/traveling/eating/breathing/whatever.” Ann deems such conceptions “chaptering,” and considers it limiting. Ann’s philosophy, countering such “chaptering,” is to “take what comes when it comes.” She states, “don’t schedule it.  Play it as it lays.”

Retirement: “Avoid it”

According to Ann, “retirement won’t do you any favours either.  Try to avoid it.”  She considers retirement “the road to stagnation.” Ann works seven days a week, providing in-home animal care.  She says you couldn’t pay her to retire. She advises, “even if you leave the workforce, commit to a cause. Volunteer.  Don’t sink into physical and mental inertia.” Ann realises that her viewpoint is somewhat defiant of cultural norms; she says that her “contemporaries are mostly taken aback” by her perspective.

Ann concedes that her lifestyle is atypical of those of others her age, but holds that she does not “really do anything others couldn’t do if they tried.”  In Ann’s view, “barriers we put up for ourselves are the hardest to break.”

Despite Ann’s already full life, when we asked her whether there is any activity she would like to try, she enthusiastically replied, “Zumba!”

Let’s keep the conversation going. What do you think about being active, the culture of older adults, and retirement? Weigh in on Ann’s thoughts and share your own; comment below the story here, or post on Impowerage’s Facebook wall.

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