The middle years of life have a bad reputation. Who hasn’t heard the horror stories? Mid-life is supposedly when gravity and hormones take control of your face, your figure, and your frame of mind, leaving you cantankerous, wrinkled, and bulging in all the wrong places. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Jean Dawson was a 40-year-old housewife and mother when her life changed. . . for the better. She was right on the edge of losing her sons to adulthood, a time of floundering for many mothers as they seek for a new sense of purpose. Jean recalls how she persuaded herself to make the most rewarding change of her life—getting fit at 40.
“Our oldest son ran track, and we used to go to all the track meets. I don’t remember this boy’s name, but he was very thin . . . he had to run two miles around that track!” Jean laughs and adds, “I looked at that thin boy and thought, ‘My goodness, that’s an awfully long way for a little boy like that to run! Well, if he can do it, I think I can!’”
Jean, now 72, and her husband George, 78, started running and they didn’t stop for 31 years! More than 250 trophies, plaques, medallions and other prizes are displayed in their home, proclaiming that Jean did reach her two-mile goal. . . and much more. She, like most women, viewed mid-life as a challenge, only she met it head-on.
“If at the age of 40 you decide you want to do something, then that will make you feel better about yourself, ” says Jean. “We started running around the track. We weren’t as strong as we thought we were, because it took me about four stops to get around the quarter-mile track . . . and part of it, I walked! It was about a month before I got all the way around the track without stopping. Each time we went down there, we tried to increase our mileage. It wasn’t anytime until we were up to three miles. ”
Even when life got tough, Jean pressed on. She was determined to stay fit. “It got to be monotonous running on the track, so we started running on the sidewalk. One time, I stubbed my toe on a crack and fell. I got a huge knot on my forehead and a horrible bruise on the side of my face. Then another time, I fell and broke my left wrist. ”
While such injuries would hobble the efforts of many women, Jean rarely does anything halfway. Nothing was going to deter the Dawsons from their 3 to 5-mile daily run, for long. They had become dedicated to the idea of staying in shape and growing older gracefully. Competition was the next step. They began to enter races in Indiana, Ohio, and even as far away as Texas.
“The longest race we have ever signed up for has been 6.2 miles, which is the 10-kilometer race. I can’t ever remember being beaten by anyone my own age, ” Jean says, smiling engagingly. She has often raced against women 10-15 years younger than herself
. . and won, even at 70 years old. “Some people tell me that’s who they tried to beat—me, that white-haired woman. ” How has she accomplished such amazing feats? “It’s the way you take care of yourself, ” says Jean. “I’ve never smoked nor drunk alcohol. There have been a lot of races where I prayed the whole time for strength. It really works!”
Every time George or Jean would win a race at a nearby university, they would be given a red brick, inlaid with a metal plate announcing their finishing place. They accumulated so many bricks that Jean made a brick walk behind their house. There were still 20 bricks left over, so she turned them into frilly, eye-catching doorstops and gave them away as Christmas gifts.
Dozens of beautiful trophies are shelved in the Dawsons’ hallway. Walking quickly past them, Jean picks up a black marble trophy from its own special shelf. “This is my favorite, ” she says, caressing it lovingly. “My son designed it for a race we ran in down in Texas. ”
Staying fit has other rewards, as well. “I was in my late fifties in one race we ran. ” Jean laughs, self-consciously. “They gave special prizes for different things. I was the lady with the prettiest legs, at age 50-something! All these young girls were there . . . and I won it! I won it!”
Today, Jean still appears as a trim 5’4” lady and looks at least ten years younger than her actual age.
Eating right is another aspect of the Dawsons’ fitness program. Jean and George do not eat big meals, and they usually limit their meat choices to chicken or turkey. “Some people look at runners and think, ‘They must eat like a horse!’ But it was just the opposite for us. Exercise just kind of curbs our appetite. ”
Clearly, there are many benefits to getting in shape in mid-life. However, Jean says the best part about being fit is that “you’re able to enjoy each other in the later years when you really need each other. ” After 51 years, George and Jean’s marriage has stayed fit. They attribute their long and healthy marriage to their faith in God. “He works out your problems if you turn them over to Him. ” Jean says that when they disagree on something, they don’t make a fuss. They simply discuss their different viewpoints. “It works out if you want it to. ”
For women who are seeking a positive change in their physical fitness, Jean offers specific advice. “Running is not for everybody. Pick the exercise that fits you and start out. Nobody’s ready for something altogether different. If you’re overweight and you want to run, lose a little bit of weight first because it’s harder on your joints, carrying extra pounds around. If you think you have to run to LOSE weight, then watch your diet and start slowly. Don’t think you’re going to run five miles the first day, because you won’t. ”
For women who struggle with weight problems, Jean encourages a change of habit. “Instead of reaching for food, reach for something to do. ” She recommends starting a new hobby. Her own hobbies include making cowboy kids and teddy bears (she estimates that she’s made 200 bears to date), wallpapering, refinishing furniture, feather-painting cabinets, acting as a church trustee, and volunteering at a local nursing home. She has even made repairs on numerous World War II plane exteriors, as a volunteer in the Confederate Air Force! It seems that nothing is too big of a challenge to Jean.
“I’m a pretty busy lady, ” Jean admits with satisfaction. “I try to keep my mind and hands occupied at all times. I try not to waste one moment. You don’t know when it’s going to be your last. ”
At the age of 40, Jean Dawson refused to allow mid-life changes to control her future. She simply determined to make some changes on her own. At the age of 72, she again faces change. Due to a knee problem, George has had to make a choice between running and keeping his alignment shop open. Not surprisingly, he has decided to keep his business open “for another 20 years. ” Still as determined as ever, Jean and George walk 3 to 5 miles each day. They plan to remain active participants in life for the rest of their days.
The gentle smile appears again as Jean quietly gives the glory where it is due. “Of all the trophies and things we have won together, I give God the thanks because we had the health and the energy and His strength to do it. ”
Check out great websites like these as you begin your own personal fitness program. These sites can help you get started on the right track, at any age, toward proper exercise and nutrition.
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