The limits to what senior citizens can do can be stretched.
NOT many 60-year-olds climb mountains, especially those with a thick file of orthopaedic complaints. Some years ago, my bone scan showed an inclination towards osteoporosis. My knees gave me some problems. I swept them under the carpet and accepted them as regular ailments of people on the wrong side of 50.
Being somewhat restless, I did not wish to sit and wait for more ailments to come my way. I wanted to be an active retiree. So I began to climb the little hill near our Taman. The first time I tried to climb the 1,000-plus steps to the top, I nearly gave up halfway. My heart almost jumped out of my mouth as I huffed and puffed all the way. When I reached the summit, I was mighty proud of myself.
Little did I expect that coming down was much harder. After a few flights of steps, my knees began to wobble. I held on to the railing and came down one painful step at a time. When friends told me they couldn’t do any climbing because they had bad knees, I didn’t believe them. Now I know better.
When I went back the second time, the same thing happened. I got myself a pair of knee guards, which helped immensely. Over time, my knees stopped hurting. Many climbs later, I noticed that my legs had grown stronger. What started off as a struggle soon became an addictive activity. I began to enjoy the rewards of my hard labour – my legs had never felt better.
One day, a young friend posted on Facebook her successful climb up Mt Kinabalu. I was inspired but dared not imagine myself doing the same. Then, I met a group who called themselves Freewill Hikers. They were planning to climb Mt Kinabalu, and I eagerly signed up for the climb.
When I told my family about it, they threw their support behind me.
The leader of the hikers advised that I train by hiking up Gunung Lambak, and later Gunung Ledang. The team members were from Johor Baru, so they climbed the little mountains there on a regular basis. I trained on the “littlest” mountain in Batu Pahat where I am based. I joined the team on my maiden climb up Gunung Lambak.
Gunung Ledang looked threatening. I looked at videos posted on Facebook and freaked out! This grandmother of five had never climbed with ropes before! Buoyed by prayers from every quarter, I miraculously survived the Ledang hike. The only injury I sustained was a dent in my pride – I took much longer to finish than the average climber. Nonetheless, my confidence moved up a notch.
May 1 arrived. We flew to Kota Kinabalu in high spirits. When we arrived at Mesilau, we settled down to a sleepless night. The next morning my companions and I set out on the first leg of the climb, and arrived many hours later at Laban Rata, our “base camp”.
Kind teammates who had arrived earlier prepared hot soups and refreshments for us. Though I was starving, I was just too tired to swallow the nice kuih-muih – something I’ve never experienced before.
I passed another sleepless night bunking in with five restless ladies on double-deckers. We went to bed at 8pm, wrapped in layers of clothes in preparation for the 3am onslaught.
I ate very little at breakfast. Climbing in the dark was scary. I could only make out the illuminated patch in front, thanks to my head torch. Before I knew it, altitude sickness had set in. My tummy turned and I gasped for air. In my heart, I cried out: “God, help me. Please let me reach the top. I’ve worked so hard to get here.” God was good. He sent angels to help me. Teammates stopped to encourage me and the guide kindly took my backpack at my request.
Sunrise at the peak was on everyone’s mind when we began our ascent. For some like me in the “snail team”, we could only enjoy the day breaking in glorious splashes of colour while we were yet some distance from the top. For me, the ascent was unbelievably difficult: I couldn’t breathe well, and the terrain was mostly unfriendly.
Thank God for my patient and skilful guide. He saw my anxiety and pointed out footholds to me. Finally, he took me by the hand and literally hauled me up the final stretch! I couldn’t have done it without him.
Most of us made it to the top, and posed for that precious picture on Low’s Peak. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Maybe, if my knees still hold, I will come back again, God willing.
My story is for those who, like me, might have found anything other than sitting down, too strenuous. It is also for those who too readily accept the limitations of age or even take pleasure in rehearsing their ailments to all who care to listen. There are limits to things senior citizens can do in terms of physical activities. But these limits can be stretched. I owe it to my children and loved ones for their unconditional support. Our bones are made for moving, so get off that couch, dear fellow senior citizens.