Kris Humphries and her sisters grew up playing on the boys’ sports teams in the 1960s.
She still waits in line for the diving board with her son, husband, and every once in a while another bold mom or grandma.
Many women are strongly motivated to retain their self-sufficiency and independence as they age. This can be financial security (retirement savings, career advancement, investments, home ownership) but independence can ultimately hinge on a woman’s ability to maintain her own good health. Doctors recognize the importance of balance and flexibility training to avoid slips, trips and broken hips.
But more recently women are being prescribed strength training even over aerobic training especially once they are over 55. In contrast to these mothers and grandmothers, younger women have grown up in a post-Title IX world of sports. Their reality is a life full of athletic options not available to their mothers: girls’ teams and leagues, potential athletic scholarships, professional women’s sports. Now they are sharing the weight room with older generations of both men and women. It is a wonderful opportunity for acceptance and learning, for aging is inevitable and a challenge we can choose to embrace.
I am surrounded by strong, active women and started the Strength in Numbers project to document the beauty in growing older (bolder!) and stronger. No faces, no names, just ages and why the women value staying physically active.
In talking with women for this “Strength” photo project I’ve been struck by their determination and outlooks. I’ve asked them, “What is your motivation or personal goal?” Repeatedly they say what drives them is to retain their independence. The women say they value their appearance but don’t talk about statistics, vanity or impressing others. This seems to run counter to how most people are coached to measure what matters. Society and institutions prefer goals to be number driven: weight, blood pressure, cholesterol counts, sports times, scores or results; income, grades. It can be trickier to measure success without a lot of data to chart and analyze.
These women’s goals are much less quantifiable but very specific and personal, e.g., to hike greater distances and carry my own pack, to have more confidence on adventures, to not require help in lifting items, to do my job well, to keep up with my grandchildren. They are consistent in that their motivation is quality of life and self-sufficiency to maintain their options as they age. They see achieving their goals as tied not to their finances, marital status, or life paths but by avoiding becoming frail; that’s what they fear will rob them of their independence and choices. What they value most in aging is being able to participate in their communities (family, friends, work, volunteering, adventures) rather than becoming isolated and having to say “No, I can’t do that” because of physical limitations and fears. As one participant said, “I want to be fully ready to roll!”
I’ve been so inspired by these women’s resilience, strength, adaptability, flexibility and their sense of humor to re-up, double down, and persevere! Most of the participants have had to chart a course to rebound from surgeries, multiple injuries, disease, and physical challenges over their decades. Many have had to give up doing a sport they loved but then have engaged in new pursuits rather than mourn the loss of the original. My hope is that the photos will inspire a broader audience to look at aging as natural and as a chance to engage, expand, and explore new worlds.