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Molly Alexander Darden Headshot

How One Word Drove Me to Cross the Bridge From Old Age to Youthful Vitality

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Oh, sure, I'd heard it all: "You need to lose weight and get fit, join the gym and work out, watch your food choices and portions." As alluring as all that sounded, it did nothing to get me off the couch, and the pounds kept adding up along with the rolls around my middle. I needed to find some bridge I could cross to make me want to regain my fitness.
 
Then, on a breezy overcast day two years ago, a boat ride on North Georgia's Lake Lanier changed everything for me. With the wind and spray in my face, my body remembered a time decades past when Chuck Dees, coach of champion waterskiers, had given me lessons I found challenging and exciting.
 
I had undertaken a daily stretching and exercise program then because, for skiing, the person must be in top condition. Eventually, I learned to pop up on one ski from deep water and control my movements sufficiently to begin crossing wakes back and forth. I cannot express the joy and power over myself I felt at that time of my life. It was exhilarating! 

Over the years since then, forgetting that glorious feeling, I had become a lump, just kind of waiting for my clock to run out. Then, in October 2010, five months before my 70th birthday, my brother Chris and his wife Ceci invited me to go out on their boat, and that's when it all began again.

As we flew across the water of Lake Lanier, I suddenly found myself on my feet balancing against the boat's ever-changing movements. Next, almost without realizing it, I put my right foot behind my left in the slalom position. Bending my knees slightly, I swayed back and forth with the boat, still in ski position. My legs were tired, but I just couldn't let myself sit down. It felt great!
 
This lasted for 15 or 20 minutes, as my mind raced along with the boat. "Could I? Dare I even think about... ? Well, maybe. Heck, why not?" I had decided that I wanted to go through my seventh decade much differently from the way I had spent my 60s. I began to believe I really could regain the vigor and discipline of my earlier years and recapture that feeling.
 
Finally, as the boat came to a stop, Chris and Ceci grinned at me, eyes shining. I told them I had decided to try to recapture my old self, and I'd need their support. Immediately, we all high-fived, and my challenge was on!
 
Well, it went fine for a month or so. I had joined Bally Gym and begun working out regularly, when I learned that I needed surgery on my right foot. "OK," I thought. "I'll get it over with, and get back on the program." But it wasn't so simple.
 
After the six-week recovery period during which my doctor had informed me I was to stay off my foot and keep it elevated, my right leg began hurting and got progressively worse until I could barely walk, so I consulted Dr. Samuel Milton at Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center, who diagnosed my condition as patellar-femoris syndrome.
 
When I told him of my goal, his face lit up; he's a waterskier himself! So, I knew this extremely fit man was heaven sent to help me get back up on the water. There was no stopping me now!

He gave me some exercises to do to restore the strong use of my leg, and he put me on a detailed program of weight, resistance and aerobics training for overall fitness and recommended a healthful eating program -- all geared to my particular needs and goal. I committed to do whatever it took to feel vital again.
 
Initially, I would hobble into the gym in great pain, fortified with a leg brace and extra-strength analgesic. Gritting my teeth, I worked through the routine regularly. No, I didn't feel like it, but I told myself that was my job at that time, and I'd soldier on.
  
It got easier until, finally, for me and my program the waters ahead were smooth, and the summer began. Chris and I attempted to get me up, but it didn't happen, and we had to give up. To say we were dejected was an understatement!
 
For a couple of weeks I contemplated the whole goal, my approach to working out and all the rest, eventually deciding that I would continue to work out because I liked the strength and stamina I had achieved, but that maybe the zing and pizzazz I was seeking in my life had passed me by.
 
Then, a close friend, publisher of Azizah Magazine, where I serve as managing editor, began goading me to complete the task. She was unrelenting, because she believed I could do it and be seen as a role model for other women. So, it finally occurred to me that I could look for a water ski coach, and I could actually achieve my goal.
 
After contacting Barron Barnes of Lake Lanier Water Ski Camp, the rest is history. On a lovely August day we all met and, not only did I get up on one ski, I took my first barefooting lesson! Woohoo! I found that my best self is still in this old body!

Through discipline, persistence, a fantastic support team and the grace of Almighty God, I walk tall now (at 5 feet) with strength, stamina and -- most importantly -- the exhilaration of knowing that I can still joyously face life head on, whether the wind blows before me or behind me. I've just begun training again at L.A. Fitness Center, to begin my third season back up on the water.
 
I love being able to tell people what I'm doing now, instead of what I used to do. Slimmer, stronger and fitter, it's much more fun to move in the stream than to sit on the sideline!
 
I'm certainly no different from anyone else who's retired or semi-retired -- no different at all -- except that I did find the invisible bridge I could cross over to find myself again and committed to do whatever it took to get there. I wanted to feel the way I used to in my prime and, if you can remember what made you feel that way, you will be able to cross your invisible bridge, too.
 
Of course, your bridge may sway a bit, and you may step on a few splinters as you cross over it but, remembering back to when you were powerful, if you're in reasonable health, you can recapture your strength and vitality. I wish you a steadily unwavering eye on your goal as you begin your journey, moving into 2013 with renewed purpose!

Oh, by the way, if you haven't figured it out, my word is "feeling."