M.J. "Sunny" Eberhart just became the oldest person to complete the Appalachian Trail...at the ripe young age of 83. He is just one of many of the graying outdoor pioneers to set mind-boggling records that redefine staying power.
At 83, M.J. "Sunny" Eberhart has just become the oldest person to complete the Appalachian Trail, a 2,193-mile journey in the Eastern United States, setting off much well-deserved amazement among Americans.
Of course Eberhart is far from the first senior citizen to tackle a natural feat that virtually everyone, of any age, would never think of even trying. From mountain climbers to long-distance swimmers, here's a look at six hardcore adventurers to inspire young and old to get off the couch, and conquer the world...or at least go for a walk!
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at 89
Anne Lorimor on a training walk with her dog Kevan
Anne Lorimor might not be a professional climber, but that didn't stop the Arizona woman from walking up and down the tallest free-standing mountain in only nine days. The great- grandmother is the oldest person to do so and in fact, it was the second time Lorimor climbed the almost 20,000-foot-tall Tanzanian mountain, the first back when she was a spry 85.
Although, after a slightly older man set a new age record, Lorimor knew she had to reclaim her title, and for a good cause. Her climb was a fundraiser for Creating Exciting Futures, a foundation she founded to aid disadvantaged youth. And she's not done yet: Lorimor has set her sights on hiking the Appalachian Trail, Machu Picchu and the Pacific Coast Trail.
Skiing to the North Pole at 77
A 1990 North Pole expedition
Before his death in 2017 at age 95, Jack MacKenzie led an accomplished life, making more than 30 trips across the North Atlantic during World War II to bring aircraft to Britain and later helping set up Canada's pension system. He was inspired to trek to the North Pole after hearing a talk from Canadian explorer Richard Weber. Weber first took MacKenzie into the Canadian wilderness in midwinter to make sure he could handle an Arctic trip.
A Russian helicopter took the group to the 89th parallel, where they skied one degree, the equivalent of 100 kilometers, to reach the North Pole. Weber later told the Globe and Mail that MacKenzie handled skiing over ice ridges and near open water with ease, despite the negative 30 degree temperatures. Not to be outdone, then 71-year-old Zdenĕk Chvoj from the Czech Republic became the oldest person to ski to both the North and South Pole in January 2020.
Scaling El Capitan at 70
Dierdre Wolownick began climbing to connect with her son
While extreme rock climber Alex Honnold might have garnered global attention for his death-defying stunts captured in the 2018 Academy award-winning documentary "Free Solo," his mother is now making a name for herself as an age-defying climber. On her 70th birthday earlier this year, Dierdre Wolownick climbed the 3,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California, for the second time.
Wolownick started climbing a decade ago to better relate to her son and prepared for the climb up the granite rock face by training for 18 weeks. The former author, language teacher and musician tells the New York Times, "I learned how to suffer through all kinds of discomfort because what you get from it makes it worthwhile. It's the same for anybody who wants to follow a path of bliss. There's a lot of suffering. With climbing, you just have to deal."
Climbing Mount Everest at 80
Yuichiro Miura (right) and his son after they climbed Mount Everest in 2013
Japanese skier alpinist Yuichiro Miura has beaten his own Everest record three times, most recently reaching the peak of the world's highest mountain in 2013. Deemed the "grandfather of extreme skiing," Miura is the son of one of Japan's most famed skiers and made a name for himself taking on increasingly dangerous feats, first skiing down Mount Fuji in 1966 and then Everest in 1970. He skied with oxygen tanks and a parachute to slow down when he reached maximum velocity.
How does he stay calm through these life-threatening feats? Through practicing meditation to reach Mu, "a Zen-like feeling of nothingness." As Miura has gotten older, he's set his sites on traversing these mountains at a slightly slower speed, summiting Everest previously in 2003 and 2008 with his son, passing on the adventurous spirit to the next generation.
Swimming the English Channel at 73
Otto Thaning swam across the English Channel in 2014
Otto Thaning, a heart surgeon from South Africa, decided to swim the approximately 21 miles separating England from the European continent to show what older people who stay in good health are capable of. While currents mean this journey often ends up being closer to 24 miles, Thaning said the hardest part was the cold waters, though he was particularly lucky to have an average temperature of a balmy 64°F the day he swam in September 2014.
It wasn't Thaning's first time across, having made the journey nearly 20 years earlier. Since Thaning's swim, Linda Ashmore, from the United Kingdom, became the oldest woman to swim across the channel at age 71 in 2018.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail at 83
Eberhart has been hiking ever since his retirement, 25 years ago.
For M.J. "Sunny" Eberhart — who is from Alabama and is known by the trail name "Nimblewill Nomad" — serious hiking began after retiring as an optometrist more than 25 years ago, and hasn't slowed down since. While he's logged tens of thousands of miles, the Appalachian Trail provided a particular challenge over often precarious terrain from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, which he completed Sunday after beginning last February
"You've got to have an incredible resolve to do this," he said in an interview shortly before finishing.
Truth be told, the route was well short of the longest south-to-north journey for the aging hiker, who has previously walked 4,4000 miles from the Florida Keys to northern Quebec. He wrote about that hike in a book entitled, for anyone who's counting: Ten Million Steps.
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