Role models for the rest of your life

Posted on October 10, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mature woman kayaking on a lake

The media loves to use ‘role model’ to define a famous person’s value. If a celebrity, often a sports personality, meets the criteria of role model, then their fame is somehow more justified. And, that’s fine. A public figure that demonstrates values that are helpful in guiding young people along the path of life deserves to be acknowledged for the example they set. I’m sure you readers all have at least two or three famous names that you might offer to younger family members. I do believe though that we should always be able to state what values they embody. It isn’t enough to hold David Beckham up as a role model without defining why he is one. However, the role model is typically a person that is held up for youth to follow, and I wonder who are the role models for those of us who are over 50, or do we need role models at all?

I think we do. It’s good to look to others and see that the stereotype of an older person’s physical and mental capacities has been shattered. Take, for example, the model Daphne Selfe, who proudly announces on the home page of her website that she has been “modelling since 1949.” She’s 88-years-old and not only does she still work, she has recently launched a modelling academy. She says: “My desire is to inspire you to embrace all stages of your life and truly believe it gets better and better – it really can, even though you may have been told otherwise.” Curiosity and optimism are Daphne’s ‘fuel’, and she’s certainly not the only public figure who uses these states of mind to keep her going.

Online magazine Fab After 50 cites Eddie Brocklesby as another fine example of what we can achieve in later life. Eddie is a 73-year-old grandmother who was named as the UK’s “most inspiring sport and fitness role model” when she won The Gym Group’s Unsung Heroes Sports and Fitness Awards. The former social worker set up the charity Silverfit in 2013 to promote physical activity and socialising to an ageing population. You might also recognise her as one of the ambassadors in Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign. She’s also a testament to the fact that you don’t have to have been a sporty person all your life to reap the benefits of exercise in later life, as she only took it up in her 50s.

Mature man on a climbing wall

What About Role Models for Men Over 50?

There are many men who also achieve amazing physical feats in sports once they have passed 50, 60 and 70. I would shudder at the thought of attempting Crossfit training now; it is something I should have done many years ago. But, Jacinto Bonilla, now aged 77, is not only the oldest person to ever compete in the Crossfit Games, he also has a routine named after him; it’s called ‘The Jacinto Storm.’ He created it on his 69th birthday and it consists of 69 squats, 69 wall balls, 69 pull-ups, 69 push-ups, 69 kettlebell swings, and 69 deadlifts (using 95 pounds). Hats off to Jacinto, because that sounds truly gruelling.

I’m also filled with admiration for a friend of mine who is in his 60s, does runs regularly, climbs his local mountain Mt Errigal at every opportunity and just last week set off on a trek to the Mount Everest base camp. I can’t wait to see the final photos, but I can feel myself running out of steam—and oxygen—as his journey progresses. What I find inspiring, and why I would nominate this person as a role model, is that he is breaking through the false boundaries that society has set up for older people. He is following his desire to achieve a specific goal without regard for stereotype.

I know that there are many men and women out there who are not well known, and who we may never know about, who also show us the way to achieve more than we think is possible. The intrepid travellers, the tireless charity workers and the business entrepreneurs as well, who stand hold a banner that says, “Yes, we can.” Without role models, sung or unsung, we might just come to a standstill. We certainly need them when we’re younger, but I suggest we are in want of them at this new and exciting stage of life as guides to our full potential.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.