Trapeze Instructor Debra Atwood at Canopy Studio

Some say there’s a virtue to aging gracefully, easing placidly into Golden Years. But for some daring Athens residents, life is about saving the best for last and they can’t wait to see what’s next.

Boomers, as a generational group, have a history of embracing change; once upon a time even creating what was called a counterculture. Time has shown it’s not in this generation’s nature or experience to accept the status quo and live shackled by expectations. Affecting political movements, technological advancements and social shifts, the Boomers rolled through the second half of the 20th Century like a wave and are in full force shaking up the new millennium. So it’s no real surprise that long accepted ideas about retirement and aging are being upended in their wake.

With the right outlook, the over-50s do not have to live a quiet and resigned life. Retirement is no longer that period when folks must settle down and putter. For some, closing a chapter on their life’s work begins to offer more free time to explore and find adventure. For others, retirement is just an excuse to shift careers and try something new.With some guts and imagination, age does not have to be an obstacle blocking the path to fulfillment.

Active Over-50 Women Learn Trapeze
B-52 class
(l-r) Valerie Cown, Debra Atwood, Elizabeth Bennett
Photo by Larry Petroff

If you’re wondering who the daring young man on the flying trapeze is, look again. Debra Atwood, an instructor at Canopy Studio in Athens, says the trapeze isn’t just for the young. It’s for anyone.

“The trapeze doesn’t know how old you are or how much you weigh. When you come here and do what you can do with it, your body will respond,” says Atwood. At 58, she enjoys sharing her love of aerial arts with people of all ages.

Atwood has been in Athens since her college days in the 80s, and spent 31 years as a speech therapist. Her love of teaching and nurturing others found a natural segue when she turned to the aerial arts for fitness, and now she enjoys a second career as an instructor at Canopy Studio.

Canopy was started 16 years ago as a nonprofit and is dedicated to community outreach seeking to offer classes to a wide range of students. People are encouraged to participate no matter what their stage in life. Young and old alike can find a creative outlet through fitness guided by Canopy’s body positive message. No prior physical experience is necessary — you can start where you are.

Atwood says after a few years of aerial arts she realized her body was changing.

“At about 54-55 I realized it’s not as easy as it used to be. I didn’t recover as quickly. When I was pondering the B52 class I thought how intimidating it is to be in a class with former dancers, gymnasts and young people.”

When private students began asking for older instructors, Atwood decided, “We need this class. We move slower, but it’s empowering and encouraging.”

Owning your age isn’t about trying to be young again, it’s about jumping in where you are — getting the most out of every stage of life.

“It’s more than exercise it’s a way to be creative — I can’t sing or dance, but when I’m on the trapeze or lyra I can lose myself in that and express myself in a creative way. It’s a very present moment. You don’t have to think about bills and groceries.”

For anyone contemplating an aerial arts class, Atwood says, “Go for it! It’s never too late! Our Over B52s Intro to Trapeze Class is just the place for you. We understand mature joints, range of motion and strength and flexibility. You will experience the joys of flying while getting stronger and have fun at the same time.”

 

Racing

Marty Lawrence takes a break in the desert during an all-women’s, off-road navigation rally.
Marty Lawrence takes a break in the desert during an all-women’s, off-road navigation rally.

Sometimes the treasures in life are found off the beaten path. Taking that road less traveled was its own reward for 61-year-old Athens transplant Marty Lawrence when she participated in the Rebelle Rally in California.

No stranger to pioneering, Lawrence, a retired oral maxilla facial surgeon, was the first woman in her residency program, the first woman practicing this specialty in her New England home of Maine and one of the first 20 to be board certified in her field.

However, Lawrence is an adventurer at heart and takes the threshold of every decade as an opportunity to try something new. “When I have a big birthday I do

something out of my comfort zone. When I turned 60, I took an off-road class — I wanted to learn how to drive on trails.”

That leap led her to the Rebelle Rally, the first women’s off-road navigation rally in the United States. The roughly 2,000 kilometer Rebelle tests skills over eight days of competition and involves orienteering, driving

and navigation. A combination of racing, checkpoints and camping over desert terrain, the Rebelle is not a race for speed. It’s about planning, maps, time and teamwork.

“I love the west. I love the desert,” says Lawrence who was drawn to the setting of the rally. “You must have spot- on navigation because no electronics are allowed. You’ve got to use your brain.”

Although she was competing with professional drivers, Lawrence only had about a month to prepare. She and her partner finished the course and took third place. “I did it and had a blast,” she says.

Part of her motivation for trying the course was to gain the confidence to drive to remote places such as parks and sites that are more accessible off road. After the rally she says, “I’m not fearful of driving anywhere. I know my limits.”

When asked what advice she would offer others wary of stepping out of their routine she says, “Don’t resist even if it’s hard — let everything happen. Be prepared and fully engaged in whatever you choose to try. Don’t hold back.”

 

Homesteading

Jan Southers a late-in-life farmer
Understanding how the world works has always been a priority to Jan Southers and Cornel Kittell, who are both trained as research scientists. Retired veterinarians, today the Kittells enjoy the bounty of a thriving homestead in Madison County. It’s not because they were raised as farmers or inherited the old home place. Fourteen years ago at age 50, they decided the time was right for a new adventure. Hope Springs Farm near Danielsville was the result of that decision. Remarking on the amount of physical work and the learning curve, Southers says she’s learned “farming keeps you humble and shows you how strong your faith is.”

With the intention to farm for profit, Southers and Kittell purchased 30 acres and within two months they had chickens, sheep and cattle. Sheep held particular fascination for Kittell since college, and it seemed like a logical choice for a production venture. Southers decided to market eggs, at one point, selling 70 dozen per week to local restaurants and markets. Looking back on the decision to make a major lifestyle change and take a risk realizing a dream, Southers says ignorance is bliss. “At 50 we didn’t know we were too old to farm.”

At a time when most farmers have a lifetime of learning behind them, Southers and Kittell were just starting the tutorial. After a few years of toughing it out, Southers says it was time to re-evaluate. Taking stock of the reasons she and her husband were drawn to farming was a first step. “We wanted to farm to have control over our choices. We wanted to control the quality of what we produced and consumed,” says Southers. While farming as a business sometimes felt overwhelming, homesteading seemed an option that was manageable. It’s not a matter of age or experience, says Southers, “You just have to scale it to what you can do.”

“There is a big difference between farming and homesteading. Farming is for profit, homesteading is for self-reliance,” says Southers. “It’s not about perfection; it’s about healthy practices and responsible planning. We keep our animals healthy and our pastures healthy which keeps our family healthy.”

When many would consider slowing down, the Kittells pulled on work boots, jumped into farming with both feet and made these the best days of their lives.

 

Leaping!

Bungy Jumping at 66 Years Old
Mike Warfield, taking the leap off Auckland Harbor Bridge

Jumping in with both feet has never been enough for Mike Warfield. At 66, he still goes all in body, soul and spirit. So there was no way he was going to let bungy jumping pass him by.

“I always talked about doing it, and in 2013 we spent a month in Australia and New Zealand. We found a bridge and my wife thought I would get it out of system. Nope! I loved it!” says Warfield. That bridge was the Auckland Harbor Bridge, which boasts being the only jump down under where you can dip your head in the ocean.

Even though Warfield and his wife, June, didn’t start traveling until later in life, once bitten by the bug they have become world travelers and visit new countries every year. Technically retired, but still consulting in his field of computer security, Warfield now incorporates some of the world’s best bungy jumps into his schedule. He’s taken the plunge five times at three sites so far, including Victoria Falls Bridge in Zambia and the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa.

Bungy Jumping Suiting Up“I like structural jumps. I like to go for the real thing. Jumping from towers or at amusement parks don’t appeal to me,” says Warfield.

How does he describe the experience? “It’s like diving into a swimming pool. You’re controlling your body and in most cases the motion is very smooth. You experience more jerking on a swing set than a bungy jump. The ride going down only lasts about 5 seconds until your first bounce then you are in freefall. There is a time dilation — your mind speeds up and time slows down. You see things at a slower pace and from an aspect that most people don’t get. You can look around and you’re flying.”

To anyone who might fear the risk of a big jump, Warfield says that there is a redundancy of safety. He says that statistically it is a very safe sport and that accidents are almost nonexistent.

 

Back to school

OC Puts Finishing Touch on Mural
OC puts finishing touches on a mural in the Biology Building

After 33 years with the federal government in various visual information positions in Washington, Athens native Olivia (OC) Carlisle, 75, returned to her hometown in 2002, still burning with a lifelong passion for art, and a desire to get a Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA). Getting that degree had been sidelined years before when she married, but at age 65 in 2008, she decided to enroll in the UGA Lamar Dodd School of Art, helped by the tuition-free program for Georgia residents age 62 and older. Then, after seeing a juried student exhibition of scientific illustrations, she declared “that’s what I want to do when I grow up.”

Olivia Carlisle Drawing of Monarch Butterfly
OC’s drawing of a Monarch butterfly won the Joshua Laerme Award for Excellence in Scientific Illustration.

The detailed drawings, color studies, photography, and research required in the Scientific Illustration course of study proved to be just the right fit for Carlisle. She recalls part of her “hands on” research for a drawing assignment of an Eastern Bluebird. “I bought some chicken wings, ate the meat, cleaned the bones in boiling water, and then sawed the bone in half.”

Her dedication, art and skill brought her numerous awards and invitations to exhibit. While the average age of her classmates was 20, she says it never entered her mind that she couldn’t do the work. Though a former runner, she did turn to yoga recently to retain the flexibility to trek and stoop, camera in hand, out in nature, and then to sit and bend and draw for hours at a time. Her award-winning monarch butterfly took 40 to 60 hours. But now, she has her long delayed BFA, awarded in December 2014 when she was 72.

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