“Diving In” After Age 50

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If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said that I missed the boat to many places in life. I believed that I was too old for things like changing careers, dying my hair pink, driving red cars, or trying a new sport, especially a sport like springboard diving. I felt washed up, over the hill, and depressed about what I had missed out on.

By my late 40s, however, it began to dawn on me just how fast time flies and how short — and precious — life is. When I was 47, I suffered a deep-vein thrombosis that went into both my lungs and could have killed me. I had never been confronted with my own mortality before and I was scared, not so much about dying but about not fully living.

After I recovered, I signed up for a half-marathon to raise money for the ASPCA and found out that I’m pretty good at running. I’ve since run 13 more half-marathons, eight full marathons, and several other races. I went skydiving at age 50 while training for my third and final half-marathon for the ASPCA to boost my fundraising; I wanted to go out with a “bang.” Also at 50, I decided that I wanted to help animals in my professional life, and shortly thereafter I found a half-time position working for an association of animal funders. After three years as a consultant to the nonprofit, I am now certain that I found my dream job. The opportunity to work with so many passionate people creating real change for animals is extremely rewarding. Despite all of these midlife accomplishments, I did not see springboard diving coming into my life at 52 — until it did.

Growing up, I was the kid every family with a pool and diving board feared coming over. I was a gymnast and used diving boards to practice my flips and twists. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I also enjoyed showing off. When I got older, I sometimes wished that I had switched from gymnastics to diving, as I think I might have gone further in that sport. Eventually, diving boards seemed to go the way of the dinosaur. I had not seen one at a public pool in many years, until two summers ago.

"As I swam, I saw only young kids using the boards. I began to tell myself that I would look foolish if I were to get in line with them and do some diving."

In June 2018, I decided to try my hand (and the rest of my body) at a triathlon. Even though I hadn’t ridden a bike or swum much in more than 20 years, I was up for a new challenge. So it didn’t take much arm-twisting from a friend to get me to sign up for a sprint-distance "tri" two months later. For the swim portion, I trained at my local pool. As I entered the pool area for the first time, my eyes were immediately drawn to the diving boards. I got very excited just seeing them. I thought I might reward myself for doing laps by playing around on them afterward. As I swam, I saw only young kids using the boards. I began to tell myself that I would look foolish if I were to get in line with them and do some diving. My fun little fantasy began to fade and I just concentrated on completing my laps.

When I was done swimming, however, I noticed that several older people were diving. Although I was sure they were all younger than I was, I thought I might be able to blend in without looking too out of place. I became excited again at just the thought.

I'm pretty sure that I picked up exactly where I left off as a kid. My first dive was a simple jump. Then I did a basic front dive. After a few of those, I did some back dives. Then, feeling confident, I started flipping. Everyone asked me, “Were you a gymnast?” They could tell by the way I hurdled at the end of the board, my head position, and how I held my hands. One of them suggested I take a masters diving class. Within a week I had joined a masters diving team. The following spring, I participated in my first meet and I won first place (never mind that I was the only person in my division). Unfortunately, I had to take some time off last summer after tearing a ligament and breaking a bone in my foot during a 10K. While I was recovering, it was diving that I missed more than anything. I was able to start diving again in October 2019 and have practiced almost every week since, even in the winter.

I am currently working on moving all of my dives on the 1-meter board to the 3-meter board. My coach would like me to learn some new dives on the 3-meter board, as well, such as a back one-and-a-half with a straight body. I might even challenge myself to perform a dive from a handstand position off the 5-meter platform.

In addition to discovering that I’m not too old to dive, I am in awe of the many other divers I’ve met over the past two years who are my age or older. Several are in their late 50s and 60s, and I met a man last weekend who is still diving at the ripe young age of 92!

Because I took up diving at 52, I am truly convinced that it is never too late to do what makes you happy. In fact, I think that participating in “youthful” activities later in life helps keep a person young. I feel great and have a hard time believing that I am nearly 54.

Tags: Courage, Empowerment, Personal Growth

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Jill Hoffman

Jill Hoffman is an award-winning communications professional from Los Angeles, California. Her main client is An... See Full Bio

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