Jane Gilchrist was a dear friend. In our time she was a staff writer for Sports Illustrated magazine. In that capacity, she was recognized as the originator of their fabulously successful annual swimsuit issue. She recoiled at management's effort to force her to retire at age 60.
Sadly, she was a smoker, and died in 1995 of lung cancer. In the few years before she died, she and I bonded. I was on her side in the management dispute. In return, she helped me make my message of successful aging more relevant.
I easily recall the moment when she called. "Walter, I've got the title of your next book, Dare to be 100." "Fabulous!" She conjured this image by making an acronym of the four pillars of living to be 100: diet, attitude, renewal, and exercise. D.A.R.E... 'DARE.' Perfect! Further, it lent itself directly to tidy pieces, 99 steps to 100, organized around the four headings.
So the format was imprinted.
This little title was so catchy that a producer for The Today Show called and invited me to be on with my new book. On July 8, 1996 partway through the program, Bryant Gumbel interrupted," Walter, we don't have time to go through all 99 steps. In your view, which is the single most important step in the voyage to 100?" Without hesitation I replied, "step number 19, attitude." Attitude -- believe in 100. As I write in my book:
The journey of a hundred miles or years begins not with the first movement forward but with the thought that precedes it. "The belief in 100" is so important because you are moldable, shapable like clay under a sculptor's hands -- yours. The ultimate challenge of anyone's life is the opportunity to make the most of it that can be made. "To thine own self be true" becomes "to thine own best self be true." Who you get to be -- how old, how wise, competent, active, creative, sexy, fun you become -- depends on how you plan. Decrepitude and loss are not predetermined. How you, like the turtle, set your course is highly predictive of the journey you will take.
I continue to use the "Dare to Be 100" title in local lectures and public appearances. I have even printed T-shirts with it that I wear when running. They never fail to elicit a smile as I pass -- "I wonder how this old geezer is still motoring." I even plan to wear my green-and-white T-shirt as I run the Boston Marathon April 15. I wore one as I ran in Limerick Ireland last July along the Shannon River. The athletic department there asked if I would leave my shirt as a memento indicating to others what an 82-year-old optimist can still do.
For me, a marathon is a wonderful life insurance policy. I figure if I can still run 26.2 miles I need no doctor, no tests, no hospital, no pills, and really no insurance. Also you must recognize that the devil can't hit a moving target even if he is chasing 100 healthy years.
And please don't forget Bortz's Law, "It is never too late to start, but it is always too soon to stop."
Believe in 100.
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