As I headed down the long concrete walkway in the 6200 foot altitude I looked out over Denver and the plains. It was about 9:30 am. I’d been up since about 4:30, given the extra hour offered by the shift back to Standard Time. The sun was brilliant and the day, especially for early November, was warm.
I had just finished jogging 1600 steps at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is a natural rock showcase just west of Denver in the low foothills. Just as famous as a venue for its summer shows, Red Rocks is where a lot of Coloradans come to train. This morning was the first I’ve been out here since mid-July, when I left for a lengthy horseback riding trip in Kazakhstan.
On August 3, a sparky horse decided to upend me while at the full gallop, and I broke four vertebrae. Last Friday my physical therapist finally gave me permission to return to running Red Rocks.
I’d amused myself with daily yoga, moved up to walking, then speedwalking my neighborhood. I did tons of pushups and pullups and was back at the gym pushing weights. I even leapfrogged my basement steps, which does a lot for a girl’s thighs, and made me giggle at the visual.
Today was the acid test, however. I wasn’t sure at all how much fitness I’d lost. I panted my way up the first 200 stairs…. but then I always pant my way up the first 200 stairs. I’m an endurance athlete. I don’t even begin to warm up until after about thirty minutes of steady exercise, during which I curse, spit, make excuses, look for reasons to bail out, stop to pet big dogs, do anything but keep going.
But keep going I did. By my second lap I was jogging rather than walking and my pace was back as though I’d never been gone. I stopped at 1600 steps, two-thirds my norm, enough for the first time back.
As I cast around to see the characters who’d shown up today I saw a great many silver sisters doing floor work on their mats near the bottom of the stairs. About half the women heading up the walkway either hiking or jogging were close to my age. I’m almost 65. I figure most of my younger peeps are in the hills, some seeking out the early snow. Down here it’s so warm many of us are in shirtsleeves.
As I passed yet another athletic woman with pure white hair, I considered one of the reasons I continue to live in Colorado after some forty years. We take our health seriously in this state. Not just me, millions of us. We refused to be statistics. We may choose to watch the game (GO BRONCOS-oops they lost again) but we’re out working out beforehand. We earn those nachos, baby. Even when our teams disappoint us we’re here for them. This is sports central.
While this mentality may annoy some newcomers to Colorado, they soon find out that there’s a reason so many of us get up a oh-dark-thirty to run-cycle-board-ski-hike-ride-whatever. Not only are the sunrises breathtaking, but as we age, we don’t ask whether we can hike a hill, it’s how high a hill? How far do I want to ride my bike? Which sport looks like the most fun? We expect to be outside in the snow. We like epic weather.
Today, like a typical Coloradan, I didn’t ask whether I could do several thousand steps at Red Rocks, but how many and how fast. I’m a stereotype, and am very happy for it. I would posit that not many 65-year-old women in the Midwest breadbasket could do 108 men’s pushups. I can. That strength is damned useful around my big old house. I come from farm stock where we value being strong for life .
The other day, a young man, a transplant from Oakland, commented to me that Denver (and Colorado in general) “has no culture.” At first, I agreed, in that so many of us are from somewhere else, and it’s hard to pin down. Compared to, for example, New Orleans, which has a very distinct feel. But this morning as I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and watched more folks head up to hike the stairs at Red Rocks, I take that back.
Denver, like much of the West, has a culture that is steeped in the availability of the mountains, and with that, the great range of sports that we can do in and around them. Our youth-oriented vibe here in this area is an invitation to play outside, to get active and stay active for your entire life- not just when you’re young. I long ago graduated out of the 25-45 demographic that Denver is famous for, but if anything I am more active in sports now than ever. I’m constantly inspired by those around me, young and old.
I believe that this is our dominant “culture” today. While we still have cattle ranching, plenty of agriculture, increasingly rich and diverse communities in our cities, I think it’s our outdoor life that defines us. We have the weather, the mountains, and the sports. We work hard and we play harder – for life. Whether it’s horses or mountain bikes, skiing or boarding, camping or just day hiking during the aspen season, makes no difference. Colorado, long the epicenter of the Mountain West, is a place to be engaged outdoors.
Even better, we’re one of the top ten best states in the country for women entrepreneurs, according to businessnewsdaily.com. And that’s good news not only for women business owners, but for those women who are defining themselves as athletes in the high country.
When John Denver came out here in the early seventies, Denver was still a cow town. Not any more. We’re a vibrant, happening, international city with a well-educated population. There are lots of reasons folks want to be here.
Because have a great culture.