Friday, October 31, 2008

"I Want to Die Running"

Joy Johnson, of San Jose, Calif., starts her morning training regimen with a brisk block-and-a-half walk, and then shifts gears into a steady trot. Training this summer for the New York City Marathon, she totaled 50 to 60 miles per week of road work, supplemented with hill training and bleacher work. In a Minnesota running camp, her coaches also ran her through stomach crunches, push-ups and hovers.

Johnson is 81 years old.

She will participate in the 80-90-year-old division against four other women, facing stiff competition from Bertha McGruder, who finished the Marathon last year in six hours and 15 minutes -- good for a third place finish in the 75-79-year-old women's category.

"I've told my friends if I die here on the track do not call 911 because I do not want to revive," she says. "I say, wait half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, then call the mortician. That's the way I want to go."

Johnson is profiled today by the Wall Street Journal, which notes that the octagenarian is representative of a larger phenomenon: More older Americans are exercising regularly than ever. Seniors today are undertaking strenuous activity that previous generations never would have contemplated at their age. Since 2003, writes Matthew Futterman, "the number of finishers 80 and above by all road races has risen 23% compared with 16% for all age groups."

While the WSJ does not put a "generational" spin on the story, the implications are clear. Women like Johnson and McGruder provide role models that the next generation, the Baby Boomers, will follow in mass numbers. Boomers, already obsessed with maintaining their physical vitality, will transform today's rivulet of octagenerian athletes into a foaming river.

Bold Boomer Project prediction: While economists fret over the bifurcation of wealth -- the increasing number of rich and poor, and a shrinking middle class -- the United States also will see a bifurcation of health. Increasingly, the elderly will sort themselves into two groups: those who worked diligently to maintain their health over the years, and those who didn't; those who run, play tennis, and practice yoga and pilates, and those who let get obese, contract diabetes and let their arteries harden; those who live full lives then drop dead, and those whose lives stretch into a long, unfulfilling twilight of increasing debilitation and incapacity.
(Photo credit: Jonathan Sprague for The Wall Street Journal.)

1 comment:

Groveton said...

Good for her. I especially like her idea about waiting for :45 to an hour and then calling a mortician. Whatever you think of Catholics, Pope John Paul II showed what it meant to die with dignity. His time was near at hand and he was going home.

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