My Third Act—Resilience in the Face of Loss Leads to a Happy Life

I am a full-time college student and student athlete, believed to be the oldest female college athlete in history. In a span of three weeks in late April and early May, I received my Medicare card, Reinhardt University’s Student of the Year Award, my college diploma, and competed in the Appalachian Athletic Conference Women’s Golf Championship with my Reinhardt University Golf Team. I still have another year of athletic eligibility, so a master’s degree may be in the picture. At the time of this writing, I am weighing my options.

The stories of a sexagenarian in college classes and traveling in a team van are as funny as one would expect. The smart aleck in me came out when a professor told the class, “When I was your age…” I raised my hand and politely asked a question prefaced by, “With all due respect Dr. Martinez, I don’t think you have been my age yet.” Team van rides with rap music blaring and learning to use snapchat have been interesting. How did this adventure come about?

Tragedy Strikes

I was happily married to my amazing husband Ben for nearly 30 years. He passed away in November 2017 after a lengthy illness. The chaplain at Hospice Atlanta gave me a great gift when he said I was one of the most resilient people he had ever met. Widowed at 59 was not what I ever pictured my life looking like, so I was hopeful that resilience was not just something chaplains were supposed to say. Four months later, my father passed away, so my 91-year-old mother and I learned to be widows together.

Golf was a passion for me and my husband, but without him to share the passion I was lost, even in my favorite sport. While I had enjoyed two careers, one as an x-ray technician in Atlanta, and one as a professional ski instructor in Vail, Colorado, I contemplated going back to college because I regretted not having a four-year degree.

An Intriguing Opportunity

In 2019, I was playing golf at my club in Atlanta when I learned my young caddy had just finished his freshman year as a college golfer at nearby Reinhardt University. Coincidentally, Reinhardt was the college my high school guidance counselor had suggested, and the school where my mother in-law had been a dorm mother in the late 1970s. The seed was planted. By December 2019, I mustered up the nerve to contact the Reinhardt Golf Coach to see if a non-traditional student could play on an NAIA team. The answer was yes. I tried out, applied to college, and walked onto the golf team at Reinhardt. My college career was underway!

With the pandemic shutdown, I eased into college life in spring 2020 with just a couple online classes, but by fall I was a full-time student and college athlete. My 18- to 20-year-old classmates were accepting, and I loved every minute of class and being part of a team. I was inspired to work on my game so I would be assured of qualifying for the travel squad, which I did for every tournament but one. I studied hard and maintained a 4.0 GPA despite struggling with Statistics 101 and Business 150, which was all computer tasks such as Excel and Power Point. I excelled in History and English, and took the required Freshman PE class with other student athletes.

I spent time in the student dining hall, and even put on the “freshman 15” because my break in classes was at lunchtime on Wednesdays, which happens to be mac and cheese day. I got to know other student athletes and made friends with classmates and faculty members alike. Once, rooming with a 20-year-old teammate I feared I let out a snore. When I asked her if I did, she responded, “That’s ok, all old people snore, you should hear my grandma!” I paid for my own room for the next trip just in case.

A Happy Life

As a 64-year-old, widowed, first-generation, spirited college athlete with no math skills, a wicked sense of humor, and caregiver for my mother, this journey has been more interesting and rewarding than I could ever imagine, more fun than I ever imagined, and has enriched my life beyond my wildest dreams. It’s never too late to follow your dreams.

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