Huffpost Fifty

50 Over 50: The Risk Takers

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Huff/Post 50 recently asked readers to submit nominations of people who've reinvented themselves for the better after age 50 as part of an initiative launched with the TODAY show called "50 Over 50." We were overwhelmed with submissions. Every day this week we will roll out 10 more nominees. Today we celebrate the "Risk Takers."

  • Treva Brandon, 51, Beverly Hills, California
    In the months leading up to Treva Brandon's 50th birthday, she says she was living the perfect storm of despair: she was still not married, her career was stagnating, and she "forgot to have kids." She truly believed she'd be single forever and that, as an only child, she was destined to live life on her own. But, as the big 5-0 approached, she turned a corner. "I wrote off marriage, and decided to embrace my singleness in all its glory. And why not? I had good friends, family, a nice life, and life would go on even if I never walked down an aisle." But then something happened: a man walked into her life and after eight months of dating, she did indeed walk down an aisle and get married on May 24, 2014, at the age of 51. Brandon met her husband, Robby, on Facebook via a mutual friend. He is 56 years old and also had never been married. Treva describes them both as "two late bloomers." "At 51, I’m not exactly a blushing bride; a hot flashing one is more like it," she said. Brandon even started a blog, The Late Blooming Bride, to chronicle her journey. "Finding love later in life is possible, but you have to find love first with yourself -- whatever package you're in, whatever stage of life you're in," she said. "Let go of expectations; let go of pressure; let go of the outcome. It's the hardest thing to do, but there is power and peace in surrendering."
  • Kate Clary, 61, Ashland, Virginia
    Kate Clary has been an elementary school teacher for 31 years and has no plans to retire. But when she turned 50, she knew it was time to resolve something she had always been thinking about: adopting a child. "As a single mom with two grown biological boys, I realized if I was going to answer this 'call within,' I had better get to it," she said. Because of her age and marital status, she began the process for international adoption. In March of 2006 she received the referral of two Guatemalan newborn boys. That same week, a local family asked her if she would take their two-year-old son for the weekend; she eventually adopted him too. The result? At age 61, she is now mom to two eight year olds and a 10 year old plus her biological sons who are 32 and 31. She is also grandma to a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old boy, she says. "I travel with a pack of five boys!" "People shouldn't let their age dictate whether they should follow their dreams," she said. "It's never too late."
  • Lisa Condie, 59, formerly of Salt Lake City, now in Florence, Italy
    At 56, Lisa Condie had two tickets for a European cruise, and no one to go with, after a breakup with her boyfriend turned her plans for a romantic getaway upside down. Lisa was already divorced and wondered if her fifties were just about “being alone.” She was no longer a wife, her kids were grown, and she had no idea what to do with the rest of her life. Condie spent a terrifying few days in Rome alone, not speaking Italian, or knowing her way around. But by the end of her trip, she wept at the thought of leaving the “magical” place, where being alone had helped her realize she was strong, smart, and in control of her life. She decided right then and there that she would return – permanently. Two years later, Condie is living her dream, living in Florence, and has a new career running a tour company for women visiting Italy -- A Better Way To Italy. “I can show them life doesn’t have to be over. It can move on. You can have joy again. I do think there’s a magic in women supporting women,” she said. “I feel everybody has a dream and a passion that brings them to life... As women, we often support others people’s dreams, but we also need to realize our own."
  • John Corcoran, 75, Oceanside, California
    For decades, John Corcoran lived with a shameful secret, one that million of Americans have. He was a college graduate and had even been a teacher for years, but John was reading at a elementary school level. After failing to learn how to read in school, Corcoran said he developed the mentality that so many people struggling with illiteracy believe: There there was something wrong with him. He had resigned himself to it, though he says he always prayed he would learn. Then one day, at the age of 48, he overheard two women in the checkout line talking about how proud they were of their adult brother for finally learning how to read. Soon afterwards, Corcoran went to a reading clinic to get help. In 13 months, he was reading at a second grade level. Another 125 hours later, he was reading at a 12th grade level. Since learning to read, Corcoran has written poetry, authored books, and has started a foundation to providing tutoring to thousands of student who cannot read, since 1997. “I used to call my illiteracy a curse,” Corcoran said, “but now it’s a blessing in that I get to encourage others and show it’s never too late to learn how to read.”
  • Beth Hall, 56, Granada Hills, California
    You might recognize her as Roger Sterling’s secretary, Caroline, on the hit show "Mad Men," but off-screen she's just happy to be "mom." Beth Hall got married in her late 30s and after trying to have children of her own for several years, found out she would not be able to get pregnant. But she wasn't ready to give up her dream of motherhood. In her 40s, she decided to give foster adoption a chance. After waiting over four years for a child, Hall finally got her wish in baby Nina, in 2009, when she was age 51. And just 10 months later, another incredible opportunity fell into Hall’s lap when she landed “the role of her career” on “Mad Men.” There’s one powerful lesson she says she’s learned through all of this: never give up. “There was something missing and I needed to realize that. I wasn’t going to give up until I did realize what that was,” Hall said. “You only have one life, and if you go through it saying ‘I’m too old to do that,’ or ‘It’s too scary to do that,’ then at the end you will regret it. Being a mother was missing in my life and I never gave up on it.”
  • Connie Hall, 53, Fort Thomas, Kentucky
    This past Jan. 1, Connie Hall made up her mind that 2014 was going to be different. The 53 year old decided to challenge herself every month to try something new. In January, she started ballet lessons; February, she started Spanish classes; in March, she tried guitar; and in April she started circus school and now loves juggling. Being a role model for her five sons is important to her, Hall said. "I want [them] to know it's really never too late to learn and do. This world is temporary so we need to live it to the fullest."
  • Carolyn Hartfield, 65, Atlanta
    Carolyn Hartfield went from a Detroit couch potato to an Atlanta outdoor sports enthusiast. The day before her 50th birthday, her doctor told her she was pre-hypertensive. That was all it took for her to begin a metamorphosis from being a sedentary corporate manager into a major hiker, biker, outdoorswoman, zip liner, tree climber, mountain repeller, sailor and kayaker. She's led groups of people over age 50 into the jungles of Central America and down the Grand Canyon. And she's gone hang-gliding and sky-diving -- at age 65. Her first-ever hike came on her 56th birthday, when she climbed Blood Mountain, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. There was no stopping her after that. "I am not retired...I am rejuvenated!" she said "I am truly living my life to the fullest, and I believe the best is yet to come!"
  • Dennis J. McNicholas, 67, Lombard, Illinois
    Dennis McNicholas' inspiration for change came from his first grandchild. Jack was born in 2009 with liver disease. The baby fought valiantly for his life and was given a liver transplant when he was less than two years old. Watching his grandson’s courage, McNicholas felt his own challenge: To be brave and shun his own fears. First came swimming. As a child, McNicholas nearly died in a swimming accident and had developed what was a lifelong fear of water. But at age 58, he learned to swim. On his 63rd birthday, he asked for voice lessons and sang in his first recital at the age of 65. He now serves as a cantor at his church and has learned to read music. He’s also working on writing his first book. He said that he wants to be the model of courage for his family “just like Jack.” He still races in triathlons and when his family does long races together, the team name is “Get Jacked Up”. Jack is now four years old. “What began as an effort to live a healthier life has become a quest to live with the courage that Jack displayed and continues to display for me," he said. "Someday I will race with him and all of our grandchildren.”
  • Vivian Stancil, 67, Riverside, California
    Vivian Stancil never had an easy time of things. She overcame a rough childhood in the foster care system and at age 19 lost her vision completely with two small sons at home. This unstoppable woman went on to become the first blind teacher in the Long Beach California school district. But it was at age 50 that the real test to her spirit came. Her doctor told her that if she didn't lose weight, she wouldn't live to see 60. She cheated death and conquered her own fears by jumping in a swimming pool. At age 50, she learned to swim and lost more than 100 pounds. She is now an accomplished National Senior Games athlete with hundreds of medals. She created the Vivian Stancil Olympian Foundation to help seniors and at risk youth participate in sports and fitness. "You will always have someone telling you you can't do something," she said. "Just believe in yourself."
  • Russell Thomas, 56, Willard, North Carolina
    This clinical psychologist will soon be the father of -- 11! Russell Thomas and his wife, Karen, adopted three children in 2010 when he was 53. At the time, the children were 2, 3 and 4 -- all boys. The couple already had six biological children ranging in age from 14 to 32. In fact, he and his wife already have one grandchild with another on the way. Now they are in the process of adopting two more children -- siblings with special needs, aged 2 and 3. "Adoption has been one of the most difficult things I've ever done in life," he said. "But it is also one of the most meaningful and fulfilling things I've ever done." In addition, Thomas wrote his first book, "Turbo Charged Childhood," when he was 50. By 53, he had written two more books, all while maintaining a private practice in psychology. "For me, life just started getting good after I hit 50. I got all the noise out of the way, did a better job of figuring out what was important, quit being so concerned with what other people thought I should be and, most importantly, I learned to love," he said. "In many ways I feel like I'm just getting started and my prime remains in front of me! I have quoted something to myself each morning for years now. It comes from an ancient text and a guy who at the age of 85 declared that 'I have the same strength now as I did at 40.' I feel the same way. Life got spectacular when I hit 50."