In The Australian Women's Weekly's latest Health and Wellbeing special, invincible women tell their stories of finding strength with age.
Psychologist Susan Nicholson, 58, of Palm Beach, NSW, mentors big corporations all over Australia and New Zealand. Five years ago she discovered triathlons – and a lot more about herself.
Her secret: a mind-body connection
“I did my first triathlon at 52 – it was an all-women event for beginners. Despite the fact I didn’t know what I was doing, I came first in my age group. The fact I did well from the start had me interested. I’m always looking for new goals and the thought of training at three sports, so I wouldn’t get bored, appealed.
“I’ve always thought I was fit, but I’m now the fittest I’ve ever been. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible but it proves that many restrictions are in our heads. We tell ourselves, ‘That’s it, I can’t run anymore’, or ‘I couldn’t even contemplate a half Ironman’, instead of progressively finding these things are still possible and then looking for the next challenge.
“Mind you, I am inherently positive. I never say, ‘I’m too old' – instead, I look for examples to confirm my positive beliefs, like women in their 60s or 70s who are still doing triathlons.
“I’m also a great advocate of the mind-body connection. I often talk to my body and tell it how well it’s doing or encourage it to keep going.
“For instance, this year, I ran my first marathon in Paris and an Achilles injury flared up after 30 kms. I started walking, then told myself, ‘You didn’t come all the way to Paris to walk, Susan! Find a way to run.’
“I found a swinging movement with the right leg that enabled me to continue at an okay pace and then the left leg started hurting and I said, ‘Listen left leg, your mate on the right side has got it much worse than you. Deal with it.’
“It did and I got across the line in three hours 50 minutes and was very appreciative of my body for getting me there.
“I’ve already set a goal to compete in the Triathlon World Championships when I’m 60 and I’ve booked in to do the Berlin Marathon for my 60th birthday. I’d much rather run a marathon than have a party.”
Lavinia Petrie, 72, of Kilsyth, VIC, has been a top runner all her life, but since hitting her 70s, she’s achieved a series of world records, soared up the rankings and been awarded World Masters Female Athlete of the Year.
Her secret: I practise Feldenkrais
“I feel so good when I’m running, it’s scary. Other women my age seem to have deteriorated, but I’ve maintained my form and actually improved. Women who provided me with ferocious competition in my 50s and 60s are now behind me in a 10kms race.
“One major thing that’s helped is Feldenkrais, which I discovered in 2011. It’s about awareness of movement and muscle. Practitioners believe that many of the problems we put down to ageing are actually due to poor usage of ourselves over the years, and that we can change pathways in the brain at any age and regain movements we’ve lost or even never had.
“I discovered Feldenkrais in the strangest way after a plane flight was delayed and I was put up in a hotel room with a practitioner.
“She fixed a niggle in my hip just by telling me to do a few simple movements and when I got back to Australia, I went to a workshop.
“We started by turning our heads and, within minutes, I was able to double the amount of movement in my neck.
“I was so impressed, I started going privately to see Peter Binns at the Australian Feldenkrais Centre and I now go at least once a month – once a week leading up to a competition. There’s no stretching or manipulation, it’s just very gentle movement but I feel fantastic afterwards, as if I’m 10 feet tall. I used to need regular massages, but I haven’t had one for two years.
“As this feature was being written, I was running 80kms a week, a mixture of long steady distance, hills and track work. I always think, ‘I’ll just run how I feel and see what happens’, but most times, it feels so good, I just repeat my Feldenkrais mantra – ‘Quick and light, quick and light’ – and when I see my times, I’m usually pleasantly surprised.
“I’m flabbergasted at how well I still run, to be honest – my body just seems to be able to handle it.”
To read about more invincible women, and for more health and wellbeing stories, pick up a copy of our latest health special, starring Rachael Finch, on sale now!