Here’s a question for women: How has your bathing suit been doing over the summer? Has it been getting a good workout in the Atlantic surf or the smoother waters of a spring-fed Maine lake? With you in it, of course.
If your answer is yes, you help prove the worth of my favorite theory: no matter how much women’s health has improved in recent decades, the way in which women use their healthy bodies has improved even more.
A number of stories – both news and nostalgic – have been making that point well.
Look, for instance, at Pat Gallant-Charette of Westbrook. After three tries, she finally conquered swimming the English Channel. She’s been swimming six days a week in the ocean off Maine to key herself for the challenge. Not bad for a mother and grandmother who has passed 60 and is moving on.
And Gallant-Charette has not been alone in her training over the summer. Miles to the south, another endurance swimmer, Los Angeles public-radio commentator Diana Nyad, had been swimming 12 hours every other day, preparing to make a 103-mile swim from Havana to the Florida Keys in early August.
Nyad, 61, had tried the 60-hour swim unsuccessfully when she was a youthful 28. The following year she successfully swam 102 miles from the Bahamas to Florida before slipping out of the headlines.
Nyad became particularly famous for swimming in shark-infested waters without a shark cage. For her attempt this year, she was accompanied by support craft equipped with electronic shark protection equipment. Sadly, however, she didn’t make it. Ultimately, she was hauled from the water about halfway between Cuba and Key West, in pain from the 12-hour swim and beset by a sore shoulder, asthma and vomiting.
Not at all the kind of summer vacation most grandmothers would envision.
Nevertheless, the improvements in women’s health have made major new challenges possible. As Nyad told The New York Times, “People my age must try to live vital, energetic lives. We’re still young. We’re not our mothers’ generation at 60.”
She’s right. While marveling at Nyad and Gallant-Charette in reports of their preparations, I received a nostalgic little history of women’s aprons circulating on the Internet. It’s a cozy, evocative piece, sort of a patchwork quilt of words, about women who used their well-worn aprons to protect and preserve their families.
Apples traveled from tree to table in an apron. Tears dried nicely when a grandmother’s hand, using an apron’s edge, wiped them away. A quick swipe with her apron across a table as Grandma rushed to greet company at the door did more than furniture polish could to brighten a home.
These actions – and many more – put Grandma’s wardrobe in service to others. Today’s advances in health put her wardrobe – at least her bathing suits and caps – in service to one person – herself.
“I’m not getting out of the water until I’m climbing onto the beach of France,” Gallant-Charette declared shortly before leaving for England. It’s a mindset Nyad would approve. People over 60, she declared after her unsuccessful attempt to conquer the Florida Straits, should make it their goal to “live a life with no regrets and no worries about what you are going to do with your time. Fill it up with passion. Be your best self.”
No regrets. No worries. Be your best self. Wrap that mantra around you like a four-season apron.