I will never forget the first time I saw my grandmother, Dorie Davidson, take on the mountains. It was sometime in the early 80’s and we had assembled in Banff National Park for an extended family picnic. The day was beautiful and after lunch someone proposed we go for a short hike. I remember my brother and I laughing because though grandma was more than game to join in the fun, her ability to keep up with us was severely hindered by the fact that she was wearing a very fashionable pair of leather slip-on wedged-heel sandals. It is truly amazing to think of now, for in the 30 or so years since that sunny afternoon, my grandma has clocked an unbelievable number of miles – in the mountains, in the city, and in countries around the globe.
I recently discovered that my grandma was a very adventurous young woman, playing piano in a band that entertained around the small towns of central Alberta. In her twenties, she moved with her sister to Los Angeles for a year, but soon returned to Alberta so she could settle down and start a family with her new husband Dunc. But though she raised three kids, and led a busy life, in those days, she was not what you would call an active person. That all changed in 1977, when my grandfather passed away after a long battle with cancer, and my grandma – who was only 59 at the time – was faced with the challenge of imagining a new life for herself.
In 1978, at the age of 60, she began to volunteer with Meals on Wheels, a commitment that she would keep for more than 25 years, earning her an award for service. It was also at age 60 that a friend suggested she join the Second Sixties, a seniors club devoted to travel, fellowship and outdoor pursuits. What started out as a short walk in the park with a group of friends, has turned into a life devoted to active living.
With friends she made through the Second Sixties, she has traveled to China, Australia, Ireland and Europe. I was fortunate enough to cross paths with the Second Sixties tour when I was in Austria, and together we spent a day hiking and touring in the Alps. She also traveled to Brazil and Peru, where she climbed Machu Pichu. But it is closer to home that her ongoing passion for active living has made a mark. With a few exceptions – such as when ill-health forced its hand, or when she was traveling abroad, my grandma hiked in the mountains every week from 1978 until about 2005 – that’s about 1,400 hikes and an even greater number of miles spent walking, talking and taking in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
When, in 2005-06, the mountain trips became too expensive, grandma and her friends decided to form their own group, choosing Monday for their weekly walks along the city’s many hiking trails. And when I say weekly, I mean weekly – for it takes much more than a little bad weather to keep this gang of hikers at home.
Though I no longer live in Calgary, I have hiked with grandma and her friends many times over the years, and each time I have done so, I have been struck by a number of things. First, there is the fact that with a few exceptions, my grandma is quite a bit older than most of the people in her group. Despite this fact, however, she is often leading the charge, leaving my mom and I struggling to keep up. I have also noticed the enormous amount of affection and respect that her friends and fellow hikers have for her. She is truly the embodiment of the expression “to lead by example” – for her energy, her enthusiasm, and her commitment to active living is an inspiration to everyone around her.
Leadership is a funny word, because it has very specific connotations. If I told my grandma that I thought of her as a leader, she would laugh and shake her head, too modest to think that this word applied to her. But she is a leader, because at 92, her commitment to living an active life makes me think differently about my own life and the choices I make. And I know I am not the only one. She has taught me that simple things like going for a walk and getting some fresh air can have an enormous impact on your physical and emotional well-being. This may seem like a small thing, but in a way, it is one of the most important lessons you can learn in this life: to appreciate the little things, to keep your body moving and to keep your mind focused on what lies ahead, rather than what has come and gone.