Gail Hagelstein knows perfectly well she can’t turn back the hands of time.
But the 64-year-old retired educator sees no reason her age should slow her down.
“I’ve always been a tomboy,” the Caribou resident said. “I’ve always been physically active from climbing trees as a kid to riding bikes as an adult.”
She is among the estimated 76 million baby boomers in the country nearing or at retirement age and part of the demographic that plans to keep moving.
Hagelstein, along with her husband, Bruce, is a regular skier, cyclist and swimmer and is always on the lookout for the next physical challenge, refusing to let age limit her adventures.
Which is why a year ago when she spent three weeks in New Zealand with her daughter, Hagelstein decided it was the perfect time to take a big leap.
“Our first big dinner on the North Island I told [my daughter] Jaime I wanted to do some historical research on the South Island,” Hagelstein said. “She starts rolling her eyeballs, [and] I told her there is a bridge there, and I wanted to do what is on that bridge.”
Turned out, that bridge is the birthplace of modern day bungee jumping, according to Hagelstein.
“She just looked at me and finally said, ‘Mom, you’ve had too much to drink,’” Hagelstein said. “I showed I’d only had a sip of wine and said, ‘We both hate heights, so let’s challenge ourselves.’”
She said she spent the next two weeks convincing her daughter it was a good idea to jump — albeit tethered — off a perfectly good bridge, but in the end, she prevailed.
The two opted to jump in tandem, and after remaining frozen on the platform for two countdowns, Hagelstein said they finally made it over the edge.
“There was really no way out of it other than going over,” she said. “We did it, and down we went to the gentlest bounce, [and] we just looked at each other like, ‘We are still alive!’”
After being plucked from the end of the rope, and they were walking back up to the bridge, Hagelstein said she turned to her daughter and said, “If we do it again right now we get a discount.”
The two did not jump again, and Hagelstein is not completely sure her daughter has recovered from the experience.
“She has told me I am the only person on Earth that could convince her to bungee jump,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t know if she will ever forgive me.”
Hagelstein acknowledged that with advancing years come a few more activity-related aches and pains, not that she is going to let that stop her.
“I was discussing with an old high school friend who climbs mountains about [injury] recovery,” she said. “Recovering does take longer now, and we notice old injuries are coming back and we ache.”
Arthritis in her hip means Hagelstein takes time to warm up a bit to loosen that joint before swimming, but it’s not keeping her out of the pool.
“We may be slowing down, but we are not stopping,” she said. “We need to be out there.”
For competitive runners and paddlers Barry and Lori Dana, ages 56 and 58 respectively, their race times might be slowing down, but their endurance capabilities are rising as they age.
“I never see myself not doing what I have always done like running or paddling,” Barry Dana said. “Why change just because a number goes up every year?”
Barry, former chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation, and Lori Dana live a very active lifestyle in their Solon home with days devoted to cutting, hauling and hand-splitting firewood, gardening and gathering maple syrup in between training for endurance events such as a 50-kilometer run in October.
“I think as we get older, we are not necessarily training harder, but are training smarter so we are really not more sore or injury prone than when we were younger,” Barry Dana said. “We’ve learned that our diet plays a huge role in our abilities to maintain an active lifestyle.”
Over the years the two have cut out processed sugars and carbohydrates from their diet and rely heavily on what they can grow in their garden, gather from the land and supply through hunting.
“In October we entered a 50K trail race, which was probably 25 more kilometers than we should have run,” Barry Dana said. “But it became an experiment to set our lifestyle on the line and see if what we do and how we eat works.”
And work it did, with both completing the run up and over Bradbury Mountain in Pownall Park.
“Physically, I really don’t feel that different than I did when I was in my 30s,” Lori Dana said,
But these days things like work and maintaining a home seems to take up more of her time.
“Those pressures seem to make it harder to get out the door to train,” she said.
By keeping her commitment to fitness strong, she said, age becomes just a number.
“I like staying in motion and enjoy being physically whether it is for work or play,” Lori Dana said. “As I get older, I think being active is a fountain of youth.”
The two routinely enter canoe races in Maine and every year take part in a 100-mile running and paddling event from Indian Island to Mount Katahdin.
“In recent years we picked up hiking and like anything else we do, we can’t just go for a little walk,” Barry Dana said. “We will find someone on the trail and kick their young ass.”
The one thing Barry Dana said he has had to accept now that he’s looking at 50 in the rearview mirror, is that his race times have fallen off, and events such as running a 5K take a little longer these days.
“I am realizing my finish times in races … are not as fast now [as they were when I was younger], but I am putting in the same effort,” he said. “But it is still rewarding.”
Acknowledgement that it’s not always possible to run with the big dogs after a certain age is an important component to a life of activity, according to Mark Rossignol, Aroostook County physical therapist, coach and athlete.
“I’m not going to say if you are in your 50s or 60s you can’t play basketball or soccer with people your own age,” Rossignol said. “But if you are a 54-year-old like me and playing with guys in their 20s or 30s, there is just too much unpredictability, and keeping up can be very difficult.”
Past the age of 50, Rossignol said, it’s important to look for activities that are easier on the joints such as cross-country skiing, bicycling or swimming.
“You want sports that build you up, not break you down,” he said. “You get a good cardio workout, there is less impact on the joints and you can really improve with training and time.”
The key, Rossignol said, is being smart and having fun.
“Get out there with friends and other people,” he said. “One of the side benefits to staying active is it makes us engage with others.”
Rossignol encourages people to do what they enjoy but to pay attention to what their bodies are telling them — for instance, if they start to get sore or have a harder time bouncing back after extended periods of activity.
“When people are in their 50s and 60s we start to see hip arthritis, and simple stretching is not going to help,” he said. “That’s when you have to say, ‘OK, time to start biking instead of running or jogging.’”
For Barry Dana, pre-workout routines that warm his muscles have helped prevent injuries, and both he and Lori say going barefoot as much as possible has really reduced foot problems often associated with running.
“With what we are doing in our lives, we can pull off things conventional information says we are not supposed to be able to do,” Barry Dana said. “With running, our times may be slower, but the distances we can run are much longer, [and] our endurance is so much stronger.”
For Hagelstein, it’s all about the next adventure.
“Last fall I saw a photograph of a woman doing a swan dive as she bungee jumped, [and] now I need to find a place so I can do a swan dive like that,” she said. “I’m not going to die peacefully, I want to go sliding into home base with a glass of wine in my hand. I mean, why not?”