The Lighthouse Fitness Project is an opportunity to share and grow the vision, mission and focus of the Platte River Fitness Series through the stories and photographs of 10 individuals who have generously agreed to let us share their journey to wellness and the “Lighthouses” who helped guide them. Click here for more posts from the Lighthouse project.
Folklore tells us there are four stages of a woman's life. She is a "playful child", a "vivacious vixen", "the good mother" and "the wise older woman". The transition from one stage to the next is not always smooth and the road is not always clear. There is no roadmap for letting go and no one, not even your own mother, can prepare you for how hard it can be.
Boni Edwards found that starting her travels from the good mother stage of life to the wise older woman was a journey of both "ambiguous loss" and unexpected triumphs. She could hardly image that her journey would include so many firsts and that in the autumn of her life, she could make herself anew. Her story proves the words of George Elliott, "It is never too late to be what you might have been." Boni Edward's story is also about defying expectations and stereotypes. The traditional grandmother figure is either robust and rotund or weak and frail, but then Boni is anything but traditional. While some grandmas bake cookies and knit sweaters, Boni Edwards is racing toward a whole new sense of herself and teaching her children and grandchild about a healthy life as she goes.
"After my kids graduated from high school and then college, I was almost depressed,” Boni says. “I had been so involved in everything they did with school activities and sports, I felt lost for a few years. I was trying to figure out who I was without them." Emptying out the nest often coincides with physical changes as a woman enters and exists in mid-life. The scale begins to creep up for many women (and men), the energy for exercise wanes, and the temptation to settle into a passive, sleepy old-age has to be wrestled with. For Boni, a trip to Las Vegas became a middle-aged epiphany.
"A couple of years ago, looking to reignite the same enthusiasm I once had as I watched my kids compete, I did a couple of 5Ks, with no training,” Boni says. “I just walked/jogged them. I thought about getting more serious about running, but injured my meniscus while skiing and it took some time for it to heal. Last June, I went to Las Vegas with girlfriends and talked them into doing a 5K with me there. The 'ah-ha' moment was when I looked at a picture of myself and saw, really saw, what I had let myself become. I was sick of me, tired of making excuses and decided then and there that no one could change me except me."
It can become easy to accept the easy road as we age. Others expect us to decline, slow down, become diminished, less of who we used to be. People like Boni, however, thrive on defying that expectation.
"After taking a hard look at my own image, I decided then and there that I wanted to be around for a long time and to be the most fun, most fit, most active grandma that I could possibly be,” Boni says. “When I got home I joined a gym and a running group."
Boni names running group leaders Melissa Miller and Jennifer Coleman as her Lighthouses. "They were so encouraging! They were my kids' age and didn't care that I was slower than a turtle and had to stop often to walk! My first goal was to complete a 5K without walking. I did the Turkey Trot and Jingle Bell 5K to complete the year. When I started 2014, I did the New Year Midnight Magic 5K and decided I needed to set some more concrete goals. First on my healthier bucket list was to run a 30 minute 5K and the second goal on the list was to do a triathlon. Since that first event to welcome in a new year and a new me, I have completed 15 events in the Platte River Fitness Series, including two triathlons and a very challenging duathlon, the Lake to Lake Relay and most of the 5Ks. I have gotten my time from 39 minutes for a 5K down to my personal record of 29:24 in Sutherland. Mark it off the bucket list! In addition to the PRFS, I have competed in 5 other 5Ks, including a very memorable one in Hawaii in June. The first thing I looked for when I knew I was going there on vacation was a 5K I could run!"
One of the most important gifts we can give our children and our grandchildren is to model wellness. Boni experienced a significant drop in her weight, exactly at a time when the expectation is to gain weight. At a time when we are told to "slow down" she was going faster and farther. When we are expected to "rest comfortably", Boni was taking on even more challenging races. She has more energy, and glows in a way special to a grandmother, as she watches her grandchildren running, as well.
"I especially appreciate it when there is a kids mile event, giving my grandkids a chance to participate in the day with me,” Boni says. “Not only am I feeling better than I have in years, I am making great new friends and reconnecting with friends I've known for 30+ years."
Studies show that the more we stay connected to a social group, the better we age and the longer we live. "Everyone is so encouraging; it is like being a part of a huge, caring family,” Boni says. “When I run, I can hear Melissa and Jenn's encouragement in my head." Of her grandkids, Boni puts it this way, "they are my reason for running and hopefully, I can be an inspiration to them to live healthy and embrace everything that life can give."
Boni, like most of us, especially those who come to fitness and racing later in life, will know the joy of being able to continue to get better. However, she, like all of us, will someday experience the realities of aging. The most important thing, Boni will tell you, is to never stop living as you age.
Dr. George Sheehan, the greatest of running philosophers, summed it up best, "My times continue to get slower and slower. And, therefore, the 'me' that I am is different. But the me that I am has developed insights and wisdom that I did not have before. What I have lost I can afford to lose. What I have gained is something I cannot do without. The race, however slow my times, remains an ever-changing learning experience. Whenever I race, I learn something new about myself and those who race with me. I will never be 32 years-old again, but it no longer matters, because I’ve learned that winning doesn't matter, it's running that counts. And when I push to the limit, I am a boy again — an untried youth listening to the wisdom of my body."
Amen — and race on Grandma Boni!