Breaking the age barrier
Durango seniors find the fountain of youth

Fred Boshardt wheels in a spin bike at the Durango Recreation Center on Tuesday. The 65-year-old is one of a growing number of Durangoans who are embracing athleticism and adventure and defying the aging process./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Malia Durbano

Colorado has a deserved reputation for an active, healthy population, and some of Durango’s seniors are taking that to the extreme. They look in the mirror, see 35-year-olds and are continuing to act like them.

As one of the oldest contestants in the famed Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, Walt Axthelm again won in the masters division last year – his 10th consecutive year of riding in the race. Axthelm will be 77 on Dec. 14, though you’d never know it by looking at him.

“I started on a bike and am probably going to die on a bike,” said Axthelm, who got his first bicycle at 14 to use for his paper route. “I’ll probably end up as a piece of road kill.” At the tender age of 56, he competed in the inaugural Mountain Bike World Championships, held at Purgatory in 1990. Most recently, he’s attended the U.S. Cyclocross Nationals three years in a row – and has three champion jerseys to show for it. “It’s like the steeple chase of bicycling,” said Axthelm, who credits cross-training for the victories. “Pilates classes at the Sports Club improved my core strength and really helped in this race.” Axthelm also regularly competes in the criterium event in the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, an event that includes more than 350 cyclists ranging in age from “50 to death.” Racquetball and handball also help keep him in shape as well as spinning inside during the winter and riding outside five days a week, when the weather is nice. “I have no cholesterol or blood pressure problems. Staying in shape just helps you stay in shape,” he explained. “At my age, you have to listen to your body. If I’ve had a hard race, I take a few days off.”  As for Axthelm’s advice on how to keep going at any age, he offered, “Don’t quit or you will never get it back.”

Cyclists may be Durango’s most visible active seniors, but there are many others using exercise to turn back the clock. Dell Manners may not hike Fourteeners like she used to, but she dances “as often as I can” and dabbles in everything from country western to salsa to ballroom.

And it doesn’t end there. She rides her horse in the backcountry an average of five hours a week and downhill and cross-country skis at least twice a week in the winter. In between, Manners walks her dog on a trail behind her house and snowshoes with him in the winter. However, she apologizes for not swimming or doing yoga, but “they’ve always been on my to-do list.”

Manners grew up on a farm and always worked hard and ate healthily, she said. On Dec. 5, she’ll be 77 and does not view age as a barrier. “I still think like I’m 55,” she said. “I plan to live to be happy and healthy ‘til 104.” She and her 81-year-old partner can be seen “cutting a rug” at the Wild Horse at least a few Friday nights a month.

The Durango area is such a playground for outdoor activities that Fred Boshardt feels compelled to do as many as possible. Next year, he will attempt to beat his 2002 Iron Horse time of 3 hours and 11 minutes. While he enjoys mountain biking and the local singletrack, last summer he bought a blue BMW motorcycle – “so I can go faster.”

A devoted river rat, Boshardt, at a young 65, can be seen on the Dolores, Animas, San Juan and Chama rivers. In the spring of 2009, he did a three-week raft trip through the Grand Canyon.

Boshardt explained his mantra, saying, “Be vital in body, mind and spirit. You can’t lose any one of those – we are meant to be all three.” His role model is his cousin Jose, who at 102 says, “Every morning I get up and say my prayers and decide how old I’m going to be that day.”

Boshardt has his recipe dialed – “Kundalini yoga, organic food, lots of nuts, and a fair amount of chocolate and avocados every day.”

Betty Kilpatrick is on the same page as Boshardt. “Age is just a number, and it’s all in your mind. People in our culture buy into this precognition and then act their age – I refuse,” said the feisty senior in her late 60s.

Her daily discipline of yoga and meditation are the key to her flexibility, stamina, balance and overall high level of wellness. Last summer, she took a kayaking course and paddled the San Juan River.

Like most Durangoans, she participates in whichever activity is dictated by the seasons. She walks 18 holes of golf two or three times a week in the summer and skied 30 days at Durango Mountain Resort last winter. She also cross-country skis and snowshoes. However, dancing is her favorite form of exercise because she can do that year around. “I prefer ballroom but will do country western since that’s what we have here,” she said. “It’s the best exercise there is because you’re having so much fun and don’t realize you’re exercising. It’s really aerobic and helps with balance.”

Kilpatrick’s bucket list is still long, but she’s well on her way. At 35, she did a bicycle tour of Ireland and last year completed a 16-day ride from Paris to Rome. Some of her favorite world adventures include riding an elephant in Thailand, a safari in Kenya and Tanzania, and touring the ancient tombs in Egypt.

However, Kilpatrick’s back yard remains her favorite destination. She started climbing Fourteeners at age 47 and has been to the top of 29 to date. “I’ll do anything to get into the backcountry,” she said. “I like rock scrambling, so might do more 13’ers because they’re more fun and more interesting.”

Kilpatrick summed up her philosophy. “Choose to be what you want to be at any age. How do you want to live your life? You can be old and out of shape at 20 or you can live a full life no matter what your age.”

It’s a philosophy shared by many members of Seniors Outdoors, a local outing and social club for seniors, said Betsy Petersen. “We feed off of each other’s energy and enthusiasm, and out here everybody seems to be active,” she said.

Peterson and her husband prefer hiking, camping and canoeing to four-star hotels and have enjoyed adventures all over the globe, including a recent climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest summit. Last summer, Peterson did a three-day marathon of Fourteeners. “Since they’re only separated by saddles, you can do a few in a day,” she said. “At the end, we are very pleasantly tired.”

Petersen will be 74 in February. Like many others, she encourages her fellow seniors to put down this paper, get out and keep getting out. It’s the Colorado way, she said, act as young as you feel. •



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