While waiting out a second day of prolonged rain at the US Open Tennis Championships in Flushing, NY, Martina Navratilova took some time to reflect on life after 50. Navratilova, who turns 55 on October 18, won 59 Grand Slam titles in her long, celebrated career. In the world of professional tennis, she was the first player to raise the bar for women in terms of power, strength, and physical fitness. She was the Serena Williams of an earlier era, at a time when, thanks to Billie Jean King, women had just started earning a living playing tennis. Navratilova won her last Grand Slam Championship, for mixed doubles, just weeks before her 50th birthday in 2006. Amidst her many renowned titles and current duties, Navratilova now serves as the Ambassador of Fitness to 40 million AARP members, who have also aged past 50.
Her first 50 years were defined by extraordinary hurdles and accomplishments. Most notable were her decades long tennis domination, defecting from her native Czechoslovakia and becoming an American, coming out and being accepted as a homosexual woman, and gaining recognition as one of the greatest female athletes of all time. However, Navratilova has another legacy in mind for her next 50 years.
For AARP members and also those who threw their application in the recycling bin because they fear joining a group that labels them "older", she says, "You might be afraid of it, but you cannot turn the clock back, so you might as well get on with it and make the most of what time you have left."
In early 2010, Navratilova was diagnosed with breast cancer, and at the end year, she nearly died while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. When asked how these events may have changed her views about living, she said, "The cancer was a more long term possible death sentence. In Kilimanjaro, it could have come more quickly. I didn't have a 'Come to Jesus Moment'. . . where I almost got killed that instant and I said 'now I am going to turn into something else'. But I have a more pronounced appreciation for being here and having the time and having the opportunity to still do something positive with my life that will affect others in a positive way. That is what I have been striving for--forever."
The work she is doing as AARP's Ambassador is inspiring people to stay more active. As Baby Boomers face old age, Navratilova hopes that through sharing a lifestyle of fitness, she can "prolong some lives and maybe even save lives. Right now that is the thrust of my endeavors."
Apart from fitness, she has also helped save lives as a breast cancer advocate. "Women come over and thank me for encouraging them to get their yearly check up. Several women have told me they tested positive also but they are ok now. I feel I have made a difference and am an advocate for early screening and preventative screening basically encouraging people to take better care of themselves."
In recent years, Navratilova has been building her legacy at AARP's annual Life@50+ National Event and Expo, most recently at the Los Angeles Convention Center in September. "The Life@50+ Convention is just empowering. I have been to several of them now. I went from being around people who were much younger than me while I was still playing tennis, to immediately going to AARP and being around people who are mostly much older than me," Navratilova said. "When I saw the energy and attitude of the people there, it was empowering and encouraging." In addition to leading morning fitness workouts, at this Expo she led a brain-powered education session entitled The Champion Within.
On embracing older age, she emphasized, "You are 50. There is nothing you can do about it. You might as well embrace it and use of all the resources and help that you can get. Find other people who are in the same frame of mind."
At nearly 55 years old and only partway through the second set of life's three set tennis match, Navratilova concludes, "I am thankful that I am still here, and I am prepared to kick some more butt."