Monday, July 20, 2009

Ageism at The Open

Reading the press coverage of The (British) Open this morning after, the sports writers and pundits are showing the ugly head of ageism right and left. Their reports are rife with phase like “his tired old bones,” “his age finally showed,” and even “old geezer.” Never mind that other players of much younger ages have blown final round leads of greater margins with poorer play. Never mind that leading The Open, or any other major tournament, on all four days is a seldom achieved event. Never mind that a certain great player of the day never even made the cut. And never mind that there is a whole cadre of golfers Watson’s age who play professionally week in and week out. I’m sorry, but playing 22 holes of golf is not beyond a fit 59 year old’s ability, and especially not a great athlete like we saw this weekend.

Sure, there are not many times when a professional athlete past their thirties plays at the top of their sport. Certainly age catches up with us. But to say that the only reason that Tom Watson lost was because he is “old” just shows how far we have yet to go before we treat age fairly, practically and without bias. Nothing was a more insidious reflection of this than the two announcers saying that it was nice Cink had won because he is young, and that if Tom had won, it would not have changed his life. Meaning: he’s just a washed up old man with not much life left. Wasn't it nice he got out for a good walk.

Of course it would have changed his life. He would have been remembered for doing what no one else had done, to seal that image he thirsts for still—to be remember as a truly great golfer. Achievements change our lives every day until we die. To say they don’t knocks the legs out from anyone who tries to live the latter years of their life with dignity, grace and purpose.

Of course, the apologists trot out the adage “age is just a number” which is just as idiotic as saying that Watson lost because of his age. Age is much more than a number. It's a reality, baby. It is a reality that each of us chooses to handle in our own way. Some of us retire to an easy chair, adding to our girth and our medical problems. Some of us become demoralized and withdraw. And some of us choose to adapt and keep doing what we love to do, as best we can. Racings cars, gardening, climbing mountains, cooking, running companies, writing, travelling, etc. We retrofit our bodies and our homes and keep living as we want to.

Tom Watson has adapted. He has had joint replacement. He has stayed fit. He has adapted his game and the courses he plays—links style golf suits him well, whereas by his own admission he hates the Masters because the course does not suit his game and he feels like an honorary golfer rather than a contender.

Adaptation is the key to aging well and Tom Watson has given us a rare glimpse into how it can work. He played extremely well for someone of any age. I won’t say that what Watson did was a great thing and he should feel good about it even though he lost. Sure, it was a great thing, no doubt. But losing is going to, in his words, tear at his gut. To say that he should be proud anyway is patronizing and ageist. I like Jack Nicklaus’s explanation that it wasn't age or being tired,but that missing the putt on 18, missing the chance to seize the Claret Jug then and there, very likely took the wind out of his sales and he didn’t recover from that. It’s the same thing that happens to many people in all sorts of situations and all walks of life. But it is part of choosing to live a rich life. Age does not defeat us as much as not caring, not engaging, and also not being realistic does.

And to say that he lost because of his age is not only a great disservice to Tom, it is a disservice to Stewart Cink, who won not because Tom is “old”, but because Cink fought back, gave himself a chance, and had the drive to treat Tom as an equal and a bona fide contender and do what he needed to slam the door on Watson’s chances to take another title. While I’m sure some thoughts about Tom’s stature and age crossed his mind, Cink was one person on the course who was not looking through the lens of ageism—he just competed. Any class of people who are not treated as equal suffers, and that applies to those who have a few years on the rest of us as well as anyone.

Cink’s competitiveness underscores the point that Watson has done a better job than most of adapting and staying fit and keeping motivated by what he loves. The more we all deal with our age in a manner that reflects Watson’s drive and spirit, the better off we all will be. Our company helps people every day who are doing the same in much smaller and less public ways, and it is a joy to see.

Ageism endeavors to make us less than we are. The sooner we see the back side of it, the better. How widespread it was this weekend was a sad state of affairs.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Reinforcing visitability as part of Universal Design

"My home does not hold anybody out." For some reason I had not come across this video from AARP before. I have to complement the team, it is a very nicely done video that really hits the key points. But I especially like the focus on visitability. If we are looking to create the optimal environment for aging in place, we have to remember our needs to socialize and maintain friendships. Socialization is critical for our emotional well being. Making it so our friends and family can visit is just as important in the long run as making it easier for me to do my ADLs so that I feel good about going out in the world. Hopefully we will continue to see more and more attention paid to visitablity by new home builders. In the mean time, companies like In Your Home regularly help people make their own homes better suited to this need.

The video is at