You're Never Too Old: Seven People Who Accomplished Great Things After Age 50.
Your Best Years Are Not Behind You
It's never too late to try something new. Just look at what these inspiring people were able to do in their later years. In this article, we'll look at seven people you may not have heard of who have accomplished great things after the age of 50:
- Frank McCourt—published the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-seller, Angela's Ashes, at age 66
- Fauja Singh—ran the London Marathon at the age of 89
- Grandma Moses—took up painting at 76 and soon became a legendary American folk artist
- Masako Wakamiya—created the smartphone game, Hinadan, at age 82
- Diana Nyad—swam from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida at age 64
- Yuichiro Miura—reached the summit of Mt. Everest at the age of 80
- Minoru Saito—sailed alone around the world at age 75, finishing at age 77
1. Frank McCourt
Though American born, Frank McCourt spent most of his childhood in Limerick, Ireland, his mother's hometown. The family returned there from New York City during the Great Depression of the 1930s because Frank's father, Malachy, was unable to find work in America. There, they lived in extreme poverty due to Malachy's alcoholism; he could not keep a steady job, and he drank nearly every cent he manage to earn.
When World War II broke out, Frank's father left Ireland for Coventry, England to obtain one of the factory jobs that became plentiful during the war. At first, he would send a little money home to the family. Over time, this became less frequent, until eventually Malachy abandoned his family completely. Young Frank, barely 13 years old at the time, would do odd jobs to earn what money he could to help support the family and often had to resort to stealing food and milk to keep his mother and siblings from starving to death.
In 1949, at the age of 19, Frank took what little money he had been able to save from his odd jobs in Limerick and returned to New York. During the transatlantic crossing, Frank met a priest who set him up with a job at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City. During the Korean war, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he spent two years.
After his discharge from the service, Frank took advantage of the GI Bill to get an education. He attended New York University, where he graduated in 1957 as a bachelor's degree in English education. He spent most of the next thirty years teaching in various schools in New York City. He also earned a master's degree from Brooklyn College.
Then, in 1996, at the age of 66, Frank McCourt published the award-winning, best-seller, Angel's Ashes, an autobiography detailing his difficult and impoverished beginnings in Brooklyn and Limerick. He followed this three years later, in 1999, with 'Tis, which picks up where Angela's Ashes left off. Then, in 2005, he published his last book, Teacher Man, about his experiences as a New York City teacher.
Frank McCourt passed away on July 19, 2009, at the age of 78, from metastatic melanoma complicated by meningitis. He was not only an example of someone who accomplished great things later in life, his life is a testament to resilience and how one can, through perseverance and determination, rise above their circumstances, no matter how difficult they may be.
2. Fauja Singh
On April 1, 2018, Fauja Singh turned 107. Though remarkable, reaching such an advanced age is far from the most amazing thing about him. Born on April 1, 1911, in Beas Pind, Jalandhar, Punjab, British India, Fauja was five years old before he was able to walk because he had weak legs. As a young man, he was an avid amateur runner but gave it up in 1947. He did not return to the sport again until 1995. Five years later, at the age of 89, Fauja Singh ran his first race, the London Marathon.
Over the next thirteen years, Singh continued to run marathons, break age group records, win awards, and even obtain product endorsements from big names in the sports industry such as Adidas and Nike. Though he continues to run for recreation, he ran his last competitive race, the 10-km Hong Kong Marathon, in 2013, at the age of 102.
3. Grandma Moses
Grandma Moses was born Anna Mary Robertson Moses on her parents farm in Greenwich, New York, September 7, 1860. One of ten children, Anna left home at the age of 12 to work as a hired girl on a nearby farm. In 1887, she married Thomas Moses, and the couple moved to Virginia, where they ran a farm and raised their five children. In 1905, they returned to New York, where the couple ran a farm in Eagle Bridge. It was this lifetime of rural living that Grandma Moses would later depict in her paintings.
Following the death of her husband in 1927, Moses filled many of her lonely hours doing needle work. Though she had previously dabbled in painting, she never really got serious about it until her late seventies, when arthritis made needle work difficult. Then, in 1939, a New York art collector, Louis Caldor, spotted some of Moses's paintings in a drugstore window. Caldor immediately inquired as to who the artist was, drove to her farm, and purchased 15 of her paintings, three of which were later included in an exhibition titled, "Contemporary Unknown American Painters" at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.
In 1940, Grandma Moses was given a solo exhibition at Galerie St. Etienne, in New York City. Over the next twenty years, she had more than one hundred shows and produced nearly 2000 paintings. Today, she is considered one of the greatest American folk artists of the twentieth century. Grandma Moses died on December 13, 1961, at the age of 101.
4. Masako Wakamiya
When Masako Wakamiya began her working life, she was using an abacus for math. She was 60 when she first used a computer. At 82, she developed an iPhone app.
Masako was unhappy with the lack of apps for older people. She was particularly frustrated with games because it was nearly impossible for seniors to compete with younger people; their fingers often lack the dexterity to keep up. She brought her concerns to software developers but received little interest from them. Not one to give up easily, she came up with a new plan.
Masako taught herself to write code and developed her own app. Hinadan is a dedicated app game designed specifically for those 60 and over. Meaning "the doll staircase" in English, Hinadan was inspired by the Hinamatsuri, a Japanese doll festival that takes place each year on March 3rd. To complete the game, the player must organize ornamental dolls that represent the emperor, his family, and their guests, in a specific order. The game requires memorization of complex arrangements, thus providing a good mental workout.
Though currently only available in Japanese, plans are in the works to release the app in English, French, and Chinese in the near future.
5. Diana Nyad
Diana Nyad is an American journalist, author, motivational speaker, and long distance swimmer. Nyad took up competitive swimming in the seventh grade and won three Florida State championships in the backstroke. She was training hard in her sport, with an eye on competing in the 1968 Summer Olympics. This dream was crushed, however, when, in 1966, she was stricken with endocarditis, an infection of the heart, which kept her bedridden for three months. When she began swimming again, she discovered that her speed was gone and decided to leave the sport.
She returned to swimming while attending Lake Forest College in Illinois but had turned her focus to distance events. It was here that she caught the attention of Buck Dawson, the director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida, and it was he who introduced her to marathon swimming. The rest, as they say, is history. Diana set a women's world record in her first race, a 10-mile in Lake Ontario, in July of 1970. She continued to swim competitively until 1979, when she set a new world record for distance swimming in her last race, a 102-mile swim from North Bimini Islands, Bahamas to Juno Beach, Florida—without the protection of a shark cage. She completed the race in 27.5 hours.
In January of 2010, at the age of 60, Nyad began training for her swim from Cuba to Florida. She had attempted this feat 32 years earlier, when she was 28, but the attempt had failed. Now, she wanted to try again. When asked about her motivation she said, "...I'd like to prove to other 60-year-olds that it is never too late to start your dreams."
On August 7, 2011, she left Havana but had to abandon the attempt due to an asthma flare-up. She tried again on September 23 of the same year but again had to give up because of jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war stings that caused respiratory distress. A third attempt, on August 18, 2012, also had to be stopped for the same reason, as well as the approach of two storms.
Finally, on August 31, 2013, Nyad once again stepped into the waters off the coast of Havana, Cuba. Thus began her fourth attempt in two years, and fifth of her life, to swim from Cuba to Florida. A grueling 53 hours later, she stepped onto the beach in Key West to become the first confirmed person to have completed the swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage. She was 64.
6. Yuichiro Miura
Yuichiro Miura is no stranger to Mount Everest. He and the famous mountain first made history together in 1970 when, on May 6 of that year, he became the first person ever to ski down Everest (this feat is the subject of the 1975 Academy Award winning documentary film, The Man Who Skied Down Everest). Then, in 2003, at the age of 70, he set a world record by becoming the oldest person to reach the summit of Everest. Not content even with this accomplishment, he had to take it even further.
Despite a history of heart problems, and surgeries in 2006 and 2007 to address cardiac arrhythmia, Yuichiro was not done with climbing. He broke his own record in May of 2013 by again becoming the oldest person to summit Mount Everest. This time he was 80. What's next for this adventurer? He plans to try to break his own record once again at age 90.
7. Minoru Saito
In 2004, Minoru Saito sailed solo around the world, making that his seventh solo circumnavigation of the globe and his first solo nonstop circumnavigation. He also set two world records for the voyage: the most circumnavigations, and the oldest person to sail solo nonstop around the world. He was 71 at the time.
Four years later, in 2008, he set off again. This time, as if attempting to sail solo around the world at age 75 was not difficult enough, he planned to make the trip in reverse. Instead of sailing east to west, with the prevailing winds and currents, he was to sail west to east, against them—a considerably more challenging route.
He had hoped to complete the journey in 287 days, but fate, it seemed, had other plans. It would be 1080 days, one earthquake, two tsunamis, five typhoons, numerous giant icebergs, and countless mountainous waves later before he would sail back into Yokohama Port, Japan, to a hero's welcome. He broke his own circumnavigation record, completing the trip at age 77.
You Are Never Too Old
Think retirement is all you have to look forward to after 50? That your best years are behind you? Think again. As these seven people and many more like them have shown, you are never too old, and your best years may be yet to come.
Gebler C. (2009) Frank McCourt. www.theguardian.com/books/2009/jul/20/frank-mccourt-obituary
(2015) Frank McCourt Biography. www.biography.com/people/frank-mccourt-9391286
(2017) At Almost 106 years old Fuaja Singh Reveals the Secret of his Youthfulness. www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/punjabi/en/article/2017/03/29/almost-106-years-old-fauja-singh-reveals-secret-his-youthfulness
(2017) 106 Year Old Fauja Singh to Start Birmingham Marathon. www.greatrun.org/news-and-media/news/106-year-old-fauja-singh-to-start-birmingham-marathon#RQo02dFC74zHIQ4h.97
Badshah N. (2013) The World's Oldest Runner, Fauja Singh, On Life Since His Retirement. www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2013/oct/11/fauja-singh-worlds-oldest-runner-102
(2018) Grandma Moses. www.artnet.com/artists/grandma-moses/
(2018) Grandma Moses Biography. www.biography.com/people/grandma-moses-9416251
(2018) Grandma Moses Biography. www.notablebiographies.com/mo-ni/moses-grandma.html
(2017) Oldest App Maker: Japan's 82-year-old Wakamiya taught herself coding. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/08/oldest-app-maker-japans-82-year-old-wakamiya-taught-coding/
(2017) Masako Wakamiya: One of the Worlds Oldest iPhone app Developers. https://www.trtworld.com/asia/masako-wakamiya-one-of-the-worlds-oldest-iphone-app-developers-417489
Levy A. (2014) Breaking the Waves. www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/02/10/breaking-the-waves-2
Sloane M., Hanna J., Ford D. (2013) 'Never, ever give up': Diana Nyad Completes Historic Cuba-to-Florida Swim. www.cnn.com/2013/09/02/world/americas/diana-nyad-cuba-florida-swim/index.html
Henderson B. (2016) Meet Yuichiro Miura, the man planning to conquer Everest at 90. www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/meet-yuichiro-miura-the-man-planning-to-conquer-everest-at-90/
(2013) 80-year-old Japanese Man Yuichiro Miura Becomes Oldest to Conquer Mount Everest. www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/80-year-old-japanese-man-yuichiro-miura-becomes-oldest-to-conquer--mount-everest-8628516.html
Demetriou D. (2011) World's Oldest Sailor Arrives Home in Japan After Solo Journey Around the Globe. www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/8771085/worlds-oldest-sailor-arrives-home-in-japan-after-solo-journey-around-globe.html
(2005) A Century of Sailing - Minoru Saito. www.soundingsonline.com/news/a-century-of-sailing-minoru-saito
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Stephen Barnes