“I just want people to think about their lives, to maybe be a little more adventuresome and take a few more risks, to lead a richer life,” adventurous octogenarian Emily Kimball says. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
Emily Kimball has been living life on her terms since the day in December 1976 when, at age 45, she decided to leave a well-paying but unsatisfying job working in a cubicle.
In her self-published memoir, "A Cotton Rat for Breakfast: Adventures in Midlife and Beyond," the now 84-year-old Henrico County resident describes the physical and mental challenges she has faced, focusing on life-changing transitions and on aging actively and well.
It begins with Kimball as she was in 1976, a single mother with three children to support who wanted a career in environmental education. She made the agonizing decision to leave the children with their father for a year, so she could accept an internship in Ohio that would give her needed experience. She wrote and called and visited them when she could.
The memoir title comes from an incident on Mothers Day in 1977. Kimball couldn’t be with her children for that day because she was on a 10-day survival training excursion in Utah. She was thinking of her kids, though, and wondering what they would think if they knew she was eating a cotton rat for breakfast.
While most people slow down as they age, Kimball has remained active. Her later-life adventures include: Biking 4,700 miles across America when she was in her 60s; hiking the Appalachian Trail a section at a time over 10 years (finishing just before she turned age 71); starting a speaking business, Make It Happen!; and self-publishing her first book at age 78, ("Appalachian Trail Stories and Other Adventures: Living Your Dreams at 60 and Beyond").
Kimball hasn’t let the inevitable medical issues of aging slow her.
For example, when she had gall bladder problems, she worked closely with her doctor so she wouldn’t miss a two-week bicycle trip in Mississippi. Her doctor warned her that if she experienced any symptoms, she needed to get to a hospital immediately or it could be fatal. After the bike trip, she had an operation to remove her gall bladder.
At age 71, Kimball was diagnosed with breast cancer, and received chemotherapy and radiation treatments. At 80, she was diagnosed with an “unrelated” cancer in the other breast. Oncologists generally would not recommend chemotherapy at that age, but because Kimball was otherwise healthy, doctors went ahead with the treatment. She remains cancer-free.
Recently, she was the keynote speaker at a health conference in Dallas, where she spoke about a topic she loves, “Redefining Old Age for the 21st Century.” “My business is talking about creative aging, aging well, and handling aging issues, not getting caught up in negativism, and ageism,” she says.
At a Virginia Commonwealth University Medical School open house for first-year medical students, she was at the geriatric interest table, dressed in her brightly colored cycling jersey and tights, with her bike. “Students have a lot to learn about this new stage in the life cycle,” she says. “They must overcome the current ageism in the medical profession.”
Kimball also seeks to educate practicing physicians, as well, giving copies of her book to any doctor who cares for her. “I want them to know that seniors may go in and out of the health system, but we have a full life to go back to after recovery.”
The takeaway for her readers, she says, is to take a chance on life.
“I just want people to think about their lives, to maybe be a little more adventuresome and take a few more risks, to lead a richer life,” she says. “If you take some risk, your life kind of opens up, and new things come into it, and you might fail, as I often did, but it sort of makes your life more interesting, more fun, less boring.”
$16, plus $2.75 postage; theAgingAdventurer.com.