When is too late?
Some years ago I had a heated conversation with a fellow 'silver grey' about surfing. I had just taken up the sport at the age of 47 and was at the beginning of what I knew would be a very hard but very exciting journey.
He and I are both pretty accomplished skiers, he more so than me. His argument against learning such a difficult sport later in life was that it would take too long and he was sure he would never surf to the standard to which he skied, so what was the point? I countered that I hadn't even thought in terms of what I might achieve, I was loving the challenge and in the words of another 'silver grey' - was not putting limits on myself.
Another surfing conversation some years later, with another skier, was equally baffling to me. This 'silver grey' had surfed to a very high standard when he was young. He told me that he no longer surfed at all because he couldn't achieve what he used to on a wave. He was envious of the younger surfers who were stronger than him, he described how they could catch twice as many waves as he could, this frustrated him - enough to make him completely stop doing the sport he loved.
Although I understand what both these people are saying, for myself I don't agree with either of them. Don't get me wrong, I am quite often quietly chastened (OK humiliated!) when I see better surfers - be they young or old - surfing waves in a way that currently I can only dream of. It can make me feel somewhat exposed - and maybe even a bit stupid - as they glide effortlessly past me! However most of the time I choose to see them as an inspiration, and thinking about how good I might or might not become seems to me to be 'thinking about the wrong things' - it's looking into the future rather than focussing on the present. That 'present', for me, is concentrating on staying fit and strong, improving my technique, trying to be brave and leaving the rest to 'practice makes perfect!'. That 'present' is enjoying the journey, without thinking about where I might or might not get to.
I had another conversation with another 'silver grey', she cannot swim. She didn't learn as a child and thinks that at her age it's now too late. She is very concerned that she will look stupid in front of other people, flailing around in the water and believing everyone will be judging her. Again, I don't agree with this attitude and find it sad, as it is her who will miss out through her own self-consciousness. When you take up a new sport you have to put up with falling and failing again and again before achieving some measure of success. But if you aren't prepared to go through the failure stage, however embarrassing it is, you'll never get to the achievement. These feelings are not the preserve of us 'silver greys', we should remember that. Kids can also hate not being good at something.
I also believe in the importance of finding the sport or activity that excites you. In that way, the effort needed to achieve your goal will be that much easier to make. I tried out plenty of sports when I was younger, some I was good at, some I wasn't and the same is true when we are older. So try a sport that attracts you as you will be more likely to be good at it - but don't let yourself be limited by what is stereotypically 'appropriate for your age'!
Often, 'age' is used as a catch-all excuse for not taking up a new sport, the inference being 'age = frailty'. I believe however that frailty is not an inevitable or irreversible consequence of age. If the inability to imagine doing sport is due to being too weak and too unfit - this can be addressed. In common with sportsmen of any age, 'silver greys' have to work hard to get fit and strong. This effort will also give you the mental strength and discipline essential to tackling the challenge. And, for me, having the capacity to imagine doing something means you have the potential to achieve it!
I started this article with the question 'when is too late?'. I believe that the answer is 'never'. Yesterday I saw some surfers tackling some big powerful waves. A year ago I wouldn't have been able to even relate to what I was watching. However as I stood admiring the amazing skill and courage of these people I found myself thinking 'Oh I see - well - maybe!!!??'.