This is 76: Dami Roelse Responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"I have a promise with a younger friend to go backpacking when I turn 90. That means I have to stay in shape and keep hiking until I turn 90."
From the time I was 10, I’ve been obsessed with what it means to grow older. I’m curious about what it means to others, of all ages, and so I invite them to take “The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire.”
Here, life coach, writer, hiker, and retired mental health provider responds. -Sari Botton
Dami Roelse is a certified life coach, writer and retired mental health provider. Born in Holland she immigrated to the USA at age 26. Dami has traveled the world extensively, lived on different continents and has learned to use her travel as inspiration for living. As she entered the third phase of life Dami lost her life partner. She went for a long walk in the Himalayas to escape life without her life partner. This trek in a desolate wilderness at high altitude gave her a new sense of belonging. You can read about Dami’s spiritual quest and trek in the Himalayas in her book, Fly Free: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Walking the Path.
Since then Dami has used long distance hiking and backpacking as a means to deepen her connection with nature and the universe.
Her book Walking Gone Wild: How to Lose Your Age on the Trail explores and explains walking, hiking, and backpacking as a means to re-invigorate life for women as they age. Interlaced with stories of real women who have built confidence through walking, it presents a new model of aging with vitality, grace, and a deepened connection to life.
Aside from trekking in the Himalayas and Morocco, walking and hiking in Europe, Dami has section-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail over a period of ten years between age 65 and 75 while living on the West Coast. Dami writes about the benefits of walking, hiking and backpacking for women 50 and over. Dami recently moved to Taos NM where she continues to walk and hike. She invites others to join her on neighborhood walks and on her adventures in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. She publishes the newsletter .
How old are you?
Is there another age you associate with yourself in your mind? If so, what is it? And why, do you think?
I associate myself with age 66. Partially that is because my VO2 Max (maximal oxygen consumption) is that of a 62-yr-old; my fitness lets me keep up with younger friends. Also, 66 is about the beginning of retirement (although I was 67 when I retired from my day job), which I associate with freedom, new beginnings, and being able to write my own script. I moved to a new town and new state a year ago, and have started a new life here. Moving and downsizing was a challenge, but I did it and feel happy to know that I can do such a thing still.
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
I feel just right for my age. I have friends age 33, 52, 53, 66, and several who are in their 70s. I’m also friends with much older people who are still hiking and getting around. They are my inspiration. They teach me not to think much about my age and just do what I want to do.
Aging has taken away some adventures I might have tackled if I were younger, but I climbed to Everest basecamp again — I did it for the first time when I was 24 — and hiked around Mount Kailash in Tibet when I was 72 (up to 18,300 ft elevation). I did those things and don’t need to do them again.
What do you like about being your age?
I like having had so many experiences, having lived through so many phases of life and having developed a mature perspective on how life evolves. I know the issues that problems always boil down to and am not often surprised by situations in the world. I’ve learned to take things in stride and keep my eye on the bigger picture when difficulties arise. I have found peace within myself and know how to make myself happy.
What is difficult about being your age?
The invisibility of being an older person. My doctor told me when I asked her how long I would have to take a certain medication, that there’s no research on women over 75. I still feel like I have a life ahead of me, but society doesn’t see it that way.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
I’m surprised that I experience many things the same way I did when I was 35 years old. I may have slowed down a little, but I still have the same enthusiasm for living and loving that I had when I was younger. I was told that older people can’t do things anymore. That is not true for me. My mind works very well. I wake up with energy to tackle the day ahead and “work” pretty much all day. I enjoy both physical and mental work. I do not spend time watching TV and sitting in a chair, taking naps.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
Aging has given me perspective, courage to be myself, and more self-care. Aging has taken away some adventures I might have tackled if I were younger, but I climbed to Everest basecamp again — I did it for the first time when I was 24 — and hiked around Mount Kailash in Tibet when I was 72 (up to 18,300 ft elevation). I did those things and don’t need to do them again. I have trouble breathing at higher altitudes and wouldn’t enjoy such adventures as much now. I can’t push myself as hard, I rest between physical tasks, but I have time and there is no hurry anymore. I like that.
I lost my second husband too early. We could have had a lot more adventures together. My grief drove me to the outdoors and the rest is history they say: many miles of hiking and trekking later I am a walking influencer for my peers.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
I have always felt comfortable in my own skin, but as I get older I am even more comfortable with who I am. About ten years ago or so, I decided I wanted to be remembered for being a kind person, so I’m working on that. I slow down, am less direct in my approach, I take my time to make comments. Slowing down a bit has given me patience.
What are some age-related milestones you are looking forward to? Or ones you “missed,” and might try to reach later, off-schedule, according to our culture and its expectations?
I can say that I have achieved a long list of age-related milestones. I completed my education, first in Holland and then later in my 40s when I went back to university in the US and got another Bachelors and Masters degree. In my 20s I traveled the world exploring other cultures and getting to know myself better. I have been married, borne and raised three children (with my husband) successfully. I slowly developed a career, first in bodywork then in mental health, that gave me deep satisfaction, allowed me to be around for my children when they were young, and present as they matured. I did my “tour of duty” to society as a mental health provider in a youth prison. I learned a lot about the belly of the beast in that setting.
I traveled the world both alone and with my family. I made sure my children all lived a year abroad and learned another language. I lost my second husband too early. We could have had a lot more adventures together. My grief drove me to the outdoors and the rest is history they say: many miles of hiking and trekking later I am a walking influencer for my peers. I have published two books and am working on more. I may have met milestones later than usual in life, but as I am still marking milestones. I get the feeling I am very alive and can keep going for a while yet. I have no idea what milestones an older person is expected to make, but I have a promise with a younger friend to go backpacking when I turn 90. That means I have to stay in shape and keep hiking until I turn 90.
About ten years ago or so, I decided I wanted to be remembered for being a kind person, so I’m working on that. I slow down, am less direct in my approach, I take my time to make comments. Slowing down a bit has given me patience.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
I don’t have a favorite age. I liked age 18, when I entered young adulthood and partied a lot! I liked 29 when I entered motherhood. I liked 47 when I got my second masters degree and (after mothering for years) I could use my mind to the full. As a decade I liked my 60s, because I traveled a lot, I rowed crew competitively and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. I was really fit and free to take on adventures. Even though physically I would go back to my 60s, I don’t want to go back to the grief and depression I had to overcome during those years. I learned so much that I now can apply in my life. I value the constant development of my mind and hope to continue that through my meditation practice, my writing and reading, while keeping my body moving so I stay healthy.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
I have a long time friend who is 94 years old. She went backpacking for three days last year, carrying her own (old-time) Kelty pack. She has never held herself back. She has done extreme meditation practices; she has been a lay Zen teacher. She has been an activist chained to a tree to stop loggers from cutting old growth Sequoias. She helped me with meeting my trekking guide in Ladakh. She is a model for living deeply for me. She is not my idol, because she has her flaws, but she has shown me that limits are often set by society and not by what humans can and cannot do.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
As I said earlier, I have slowed down. I don’t work twelve-hour days anymore. I do self-imposed work six hours a day (that includes hiking three or four days a week), I read more, I enjoy my garden just sitting in the sun. I don’t hike 17-mile days with a backpack. A 9- or 10-mile day is plenty. My hair is thinning, my skin has aging spots, but a good-looking sunhat does the trick and as a friend said, your energy and smile are more attractive than flawless skin. I look less in the mirror and worry less about how I look. I go to bed around 9pm and enjoy lounging in bed and sleeping till dawn.
I value the constant development of my mind and hope to continue that through my meditation practice, my writing and reading, while keeping my body moving so I stay healthy.
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
I don’t want to say “I can’t.” I’d rather say “I won’t.” I don’t like the restriction I feel with “I can’t,” so I make adjustments from a positive place. For instance, I’ve lost interest in going out at night. I like being at home in the evenings. I don’t like driving after dark, because my eyes don’t do well with bright and flashing lights. So I let others drive me to a play or dinner occasionally.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
I pause when the wheel of another year turns. I may go for a hike in nature, or retreat for a day. I celebrate with friends and/or family when I reach a half or whole decade. We get together, make a cake, eat and enjoy the weather in some way.
My birthday is in the spring, so it’s easy to celebrate as life returns in nature. I love tulips and daffodils; how can I not, having been born in Holland? I am grateful that I have had this long a life, and it’s worth celebrating. I hope my family and friends will celebrate when I cross to the other side, not because they’re happy to see me go but because they celebrate the good times we’ve had together.
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