THEY’RE dubbed Instagram’s senior superstars — Iris Apfel; Linda Rodin; and Daphne Selfe — style icons who have embraced their age and are busier than ever. In a society where many complain of feeling invisible once they reach their 60s, an array of women — and men — are growing older and bolder.
“Negative stereotypes about ageing are everywhere in western society,” says Dr Sabina Brennan of TCD.
“Ageism denies diversity and tends to lump all older people together. However, populations of older people are more complex and varied than their younger counterparts.
“Media misrepresentation — think ‘bed blockers’ or ‘the elderly’ — can cause people to believe negative stereotypes and live down to lowered expectations.
“Perceptions of ageing can negatively impact on people’s physical, mental and social activity, which in turn can increase risk for late life diseases such as dementia,” Dr Brennan counsels.
Later life can be an opportunity for growth and even radical change, she says, pointing to our three personal stories as inspiration.
Myra Reid and Paraic O’Maoilriada
It wasn’t all plain sailing when Myra Reid (70) and her husband Paraic O’Maolriada (73) from Tullaroan, Co Kilkenny, went on a six-year sailing trip around the globe, but it was the experience of a lifetime.
Myra and Paraic’s voyage on their 16-metre long yacht ‘Saol Eile’, began in August 2010. The seed was sown when Paraic who retired from Diageo in 1999, going on to do consultancy work, was in Beamish, Cork. A friend there asked him to take a share in a boat. The couple took lessons in 2004 so they could make the most of the share.
“During Christmas 2005, the family asked what we were going to do for our retirement. Paraic who couldn’t even swim, said he was going to sail around the world. They asked if I was going and I said I wasn’t but eventually I decided to throw in my lot with him,” laughs Myra.
Getting a stroke in June 2008 didn’t deter Paraic but made him more determined to buy a boat which the couple financed through a well-timed sale of their Bank of Ireland shares. Having chartered a boat similar to the one they bought and taken it around the British and American Virgin Islands, they were confident they could go ahead with their planned trip.
The couple who celebrate 50 years of marriage this year, consulted a professional on a suitable vessel — an Amel Super Maramu. “It has lots of electrics and was chosen with our ages in mind,” says Myra.
They sailed it from Mallorca to Kinsale and trained with Bantry-based sailing instructor Zafer Guray. In 2009 they circumnavigated Ireland, only going out to sea when the weather was good, and did further training with Zafer at every opportunity in 2010.
On August 22, 2010, they set off, with two other crew, taking in Spain; Portugal; Madeira; the Canary Islands and the Caribbean where they were joined by family members. While in Panama, after going through the canal, Paraic suffered an embolism in both lungs. “He spent two weeks in intensive care there and we then returned home until his health improved,” recalls Myra.
“We went back eight months later, having promised the family that when crossing big oceans, we would always take another person with us,” she says. “We had spent five years preparing for the trip. You’re only going to die once.We got the medication and took people with us,” asserts Mrya.
They left Panama on St Patrick’s Day 2012 and arrived in New Zealand on November 12, visiting as many islands in the Pacific as possible. Flights were taken along the way, including from Malyasia to Vietnam, on to Laos and Cambodia. Their itinerary included Thailand, Sri Lanka, india, The Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar which they were enthralled with, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, and The Azores.
The couple who came home in 2016, researched everywhere they went. “We met lots of ‘boaties’ who were older than us, some in their 80s and 90s — age never came into it. We also met people undergoing chemotherapy who flew home for treatment. Sailing becomes a way of life — the worst part is missing the family and the cold — the bad weather when you get into the northern latitudes but it was absolutely wonderful in the warmer climates.”
Paraic would like to take to the seas again, going around Cape Horn but Myra isn’t so sure. “I tell him I have one halo already after spending all that time with him.”
He’s been a federal prosecutor for the US attorney’s office in Manhattan; a lecturer at the University of San Diego Law School and a judge in Upstate New York. Jack Kelleher (74) who now lives near Clonakilty, gets around in his professional and personal lives — usually by bicycle.
In 2015 he undertook a six-month sojourn around parts of the globe by container ship and bicycle, with train trips thrown in. “I have sisters in California and children in various parts of the US and they were all after me to visit. I don’t like planes so I thought I’d see if I could get around without them,” says Jack who has been longlisted in the Fish International Short Story Competition.
“I booked container ship travel through an agency. I was usually the only passenger.”
The odyssey took him from France to China where he visited Shanghai and Beijing. Then it was onto British Columbia by container ship where he saw Vancouver and Vancouver Island, moving onto Toronto.
He met his sisters in Southern California and reminisced in childhood haunts. A return was made to Upstate New York where he lived for many years, and he took a train to Miami which he describes as “Las Vegas with a beach”.
He returned home, brimful of memories of cultural crawls; idyllic spots such as Ladysmith, Vancouver, and encounters with alligators and a grizzly bear.
Apart from getting caught in bad weather in British Columbia, nothing went wrong, Jack says.
“I always met up with wonderful welcoming people and had great experiences.”
He was recently back with his bicycle in the US and a trip to Italy is on the cards.
“If I see an opportunity to do something, I just do it. I’m really fortunate to be blessed with good health.”
Jack is giving back to the less mobile members of his community through involvement in Cycling Without Ages in Clonakilty which organises trishaw trips. He’s also involved in Clonakilty’s Community Bike Rental Scheme and its annual June Bicycle Festival.
Janet White Spunner
Having celebrated her 80th birthday on Good Friday in Nice, Janet White Spunner always has a plan. Whether it’s exploring far-flung destinations on horseback or bringing her three miniature poodles to agility competitions, she’s always on the go.
The expeditions started for Janet who now lives in Birr, when she was 68 and her late husband was in a nursing home: “I spotted a poster for the Irish Heart Foundation’s fundraising horse riding trip in The Sahara, gathered the money and was off on the stallions.”
Other charity horse riding trips included Jordan; South Africa with an undiagnosed broken leg; Colorado where she got her cowgirl certificate; Ecuador; and India.
Horseriding holidays included Mendocino in California; Spain; Peru; and Iceland. She also had a memorable holiday in The Galapagos.
She has also been huskey sledding in the Artic, where the dogs travelled 95km in one day. In June Janet will embark on a komodo sea kayaking expedition from Bali.
Back home, she tries to keep pace with her miniature poodles in dog agility competitions:
“The oldest is 12 and is still competing and being placed — we make quite a pair.
“A lot of older people don’t plan and lose the excitement of life — they think fun is just for the young. I don’t know why people put up barriers — if I fall at a hurdle, someone will pick me up.”