George Bush jumped from an airplane at 72.
Mark Spitz tried to qualify again for the Olympics - and narrowly missed - at 40.
And now Sen. John Glenn, 76, will be returning to space. NASA is planning to call a news conference today to make it official that it has granted the wish of the former astronaut.
His flight aboard the shuttle Discovery in October will come more than 36 years after his three-orbit ride aboard the cramped Friendship 7 capsule on Feb. 20, 1962.
The message, according to experts on aging, is that the number of candles on your birthday cake no longer matters. What matters is how you feel, what you are capable of.
“This just shows that age is irrelevant,” said Ronald Klatz, president of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. “Age means less and less and less today. Is Sen. Glenn old? Chronologically, yes. Biologically, not at all.
“With the advent of an ageless society, what matters is your function, not your age. You can be 80 and be in a nursing home, or you can be 80 and on the Supreme Court.”
Glenn’s return to space underscores an acceptance of this point of view in society today, said Gene Cohen, former acting director of the National Institute on Aging and now director of the Center on Aging, Health and Humanities at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “Today people are more influenced by how do I feel in general, not what is my age,” he said.
“Look at the movies,” Cohen urged. “We have the aging of the “Star Trek” crew. People don’t think twice about Captain Kirk as a senior citizen and going back into space. The whole culture is changing. Scotty, Bones, Spock - that’s a geriatric crew.” (William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are 66. DeForest Kelley and James Doohan are 77.)
“If people thought it was silly, absurd, impossible,” the casting of such older actors would not have worked, Cohen said.
That older people continue to do remarkable things is no longer remarkable at all: Strom Thurmond serves in the Senate at 95. Jeanne Calment, who died last year in France at age 122, rode her bike at age 100.
Millions of Americans continue to run, work, play, hunt and expand the age limits of human activity well into their 70s and 80s.
Consider just one, Meryl Hilf, of Barnegat Light, Pa.
“I hurt my knee last summer and went to the orthopedic surgeon,” she recalled Thursday. “He asked me: ‘How’d you do this?’ I said I was body surfing. He said: ‘Meryl, how old are you?’ I said 71. He looked at me and said: ‘Don’t ever quit.”’
She doesn’t intend to.
In two weeks, she’s going again. Not into space, but to Florida, to body surf.
MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.