At 76, he loves walking and hiking. But a snowstorm forced me to confront my body’s limitations

This column is in the first person from the experience of Isobel Cunningham, who lives in Montreal. For more information about CBC’s First Person Stories, please See frequently asked questions.

When I opened the door to my small apartment to head to the gym, I saw tree branches covered in ice and the sidewalk stretched out like a narrow, endless skating path.

At 76 years old, I still enjoy walking, hiking, and taking on different physical challenges, so the unpredictability of the Montreal winter didn’t stop me from achieving my daily goal of 10,000 steps.

I put on a pair of boots with built-in crampons, armed myself with one of my trusty hiking poles and dove into the thick crust covering the snow. It reminded me of the icing on the cake.

I managed to get halfway to the avenue where I had hoped to catch the bus when suddenly, my shoes wouldn’t penetrate the crust.

Instead, I slipped on the icy surface for a terrifying moment, then recovered and assessed the situation. Could my daily routine have turned into a dangerous endeavour?

At that moment, I realized I was afraid to walk into the corner.

The snow is covered with a thick crust of ice.
Cunningham’s trip to the gym was cut short after she realized she couldn’t safely get through the thick, slippery crust of January snow. (Submitted by Isobel Cunningham)

I’m a senior who hasn’t been there long He covered almost 800 kilometers on the Camino de Santiago in Spain -Sleeping in group dormitories and starting out in complete darkness early in the morning to get a jump on the long days of walking solo ahead -He was afraid to walk to the end of the street I lived on.

Prudence overcame my stubborn disposition that day and went home.

But when I put the key in the lock of my door, unexpected tears welled up in my eyes.

A feeling of physical fragility washed over me. It was strange and unfamiliar and I wasn’t ready to face it yet.

Anxiety about aging

The next few days presented challenges – both physical and mental.

I was confined to my house with milk and bread running out, and my mind started jumping from one sad thought to another.

Simply walking down the street at my age was a risk that I could break a bone or worse. What if I can’t go outside in the winter again without asking for help?

I hate asking people for favors. Others have their own interests and duties. Why should they take care of me? Given my long career as a teacher and in social service as a helper, asking for help felt foreign and almost foreign.

This forced isolation emphasized the fact that I was no longer young – something I had never felt before given my active lifestyle.

I’ve tried to block out my depressing thoughts with a ton of half-watched Netflix movies and endless Facebook browsing. In the end I turned off the devices in disgust. Was this what they called cabin fever?

By the third day, I was stuck at home, the sidewalks were still an icy hazard, and I was out of milk and bread. I was dying for a cup of latte. I tried to imagine what hundreds or thousands of elderly people like me were doing to solve similar problems.

Dejected, I turned to my phone. That’s when I discovered that he was silent.

The device lit up with a slew of text and voice messages from several friends and a grandson who was worried about me.

I was touched to see that people were thinking of me, hoping that I would be okay. I returned some calls to reassure my dear ones.

The truth is: I was fine.

Logic tells us that anxiety comes with aging. But logic hides itself very subtly when we encounter unexpected obstacles. That’s when gumption and ingenuity must impress.

I searched the Internet, found a local grocery store that offered grocery delivery services, and was able, with some difficulty, to place my order online. There was even a discount code for the first time. Like magic, the groceries arrived in my kitchen within an hour.

My spirits rose. My terrified imagination calmed down.

That experience taught me that I can find solutions to my problems if I keep them in mind instead of thinking about the real limitations of an old woman being honest.

Four days later, the temperature had risen to just above freezing, and the main danger of falling on icy sidewalks had temporarily disappeared. I took my hiking stick and walked gingerly to the gym. I returned home tired but victorious.

It feels like it’s now my turn to ask for help when I need it — an idea I’m still working to make peace with.

Change is difficult at this age, yet it is vital if I want to survive and thrive – although I find changing my self-image much harder than placing an online food delivery order.


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