By Cynthia Tremenheere
Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough. Groucho Marx.
An end came to the sports I had always enjoyed, tennis, squash, skiing and hiking, when I developed the debilitating disease of Ulcerative Colitis. Ten years later, I was offered the relief of surgery and became a 60-year old bag-lady with muscles that had deteriorated to jelly. Unable to participate in any activities during those years, I had lost my co-ordination to return to my loved sports. Unemployed, broke and carrying the baggage of the side-effects of steroid prescription drugs during that illness, I retired from Alberta to the beautiful city of Victoria, British Columbia, determined to start a new and active life.
“Strength-training,” said my clever new doctor. “That’s what you need for those soft muscles and to avoid future arthritis.” Weight-training? Me? At my age? Was he crazy? However, I did some research and to my surprise found that strength-training with weights was popular amongst many seniors in Victoria. After an orientation at the YWCA, I moved onto a Lady Fitness gym and was hooked. I had taken my first steps towards my goal. It took perseverance and determination but in time I became fit and active once again. I have been strength-training ever since.
What next? I knew no one in Victoria and had no family here, but understood that to make friends one has to go out and find them. A newly-formed Ladies Walking Club was my answer. The members, like myself, were new to Victoria and looking for companionship or had recently retired and needing to fill their quieter days. There were even one or two who, we suspected, needed escape from their retired husbands. Little did I know that in the following years I would make many close friends and discover most of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands along with many of the pubs.
Victoria and its environment are blessed with a mild maritime climate and there are few days when we missed a walk because of inclement weather. You can choose a recreation or sport and chances are that older Victorians are involved in more than one: cycling, camping, fishing, kayaking and canoeing, sailing, bowling, tennis, swimming and, of course, bridge and golf to name a few. There are book discussion groups or just plain discussion groups. There are computer classes and courses of every description at Senior Centres. There are University or College Credit courses. There are amateur theatricals, visual art clubs, folk, line and Scottish dance groups and busy volunteer groups. My friends and I joined many of them. There is no time for retirement during these precious Golden Years.
Nature is never far away from Victoria with an abundance of hiking trails, many of them perfect for enthusiastic walkers like ourselves. We proudly climbed Victoria’s Mount Douglas, considered a mere hill by younger mountaineers. With my fellow hikers I explored old-growth forests, blue lakes, salmon-spawning rivers throughout the provincial and national parks, some immense, of West and North Vancouver Island. We lunched in pubs and picnicked outdoors in parks and on beaches amongst flora and fauna. We ferried across the Strait of Georgia to the Gulf Islands and hiked Saltspring, the Penders, Galiano, Mayne and Saturna Islands. We crossed to Friday Harbour in the U.S. for a day trip and some went further afield to the U.K. for two weeks of hiking in Yorkshire.
Over the years, we have lost some of our companions. We will always miss them. Each year we, the able and the few now barely able, meet to reminisce over lunch. When I look at my friends at each reunion I see more white hairs and more laughter lines. I was a bit upset last year when I reached my 84th birthday, but an older walking mate consoled me, “Don’t complain about
growing old,” she said. “Many people don’t have that privilege.”
Over these years I have learnt that happiness means not only good health; happiness is sharing laughter, good times and memories with friends.