She goes paddling and hiking most of the year and skis in the winter. She’s enthusiastic and looks for opportunities to do these outdoor activities with others.
If you think she’s a 30-something, you would be wrong.
At 79, Doris Ludewig of Saratoga Springs has an athletic lifestyle and doesn’t let her age — or her arthritis — get in the way.
“You can do what you want. You just do it at a slower pace,” she said. But don’t get the impression she is pokey in her pursuits, Ludewig is a regular paddler who has explored lakes, ponds and rivers in our area, seen nesting loons and herons and spotted a soaring eagle.
Studies show that staying physically active and exercising regularly is vital to preventing or delaying many diseases and disabilities. Ludewig has always been an exerciser but picked up the pace when her children were teenagers. She and her husband, Fred, have been on road trips to 49 states visiting national parks, hiking and Doris climbed one Adirondack high peak — Mount Marcy — when she was 50 years old.
It is common knowledge that exercise and physical activity are among the healthiest things you can do for yourself. But some older adults stop doing the sports they enjoy when a few changes in equipment might keep them going strong.
A lighter kayak
The secret to Ludewig’s continued athleticism is her adaptability. For example, one of the activities she enjoys is kayaking. She once had a heavier boat that became increasingly difficult to transport. Instead of letting this stop her, she bought a Hornbeck kevlar boat, which weighs 16 pounds. She can lift it herself and transport it inside her Chrysler van. “It fits right in. I don’t have to worry about tying it to the roof. And I can still carry a passenger,” the petite grandmother of five and great-grandmother of one said.
Ludewig’s attitude and energy has inspired others. Saratoga residents Nancy Fairbanks and Margie Ingram met Ludewig at an Adult Lifetime Learning (ALL) hiking program. “We finished hiking at noon, had a picnic and Doris told us she was going kayaking,” Fairbanks said. Intrigued, she and Ingram asked questions and ultimately decided to buy lightweight Hornbeck kayaks for themselves.
Fairbanks said, “We had been looking for several years. We had tried different boats, but hadn’t found anything light enough” that suited their needs.
Even though the boats are lightweight, Ludewig’s husband made it even easier for his wife to transport hers by adapting an old golf bag purchased at a yard sale into a carrier she can pull along.
Hornbeck boats, which is based in Olmstedville, Essex County, sells kayaks and open kayaks that look like canoes but are structured so the paddler sits on the floor, which stabilizes the boat. The steadiness of the Hornbeck open kayak is something Ludewig appreciates. “I’ve tipped canoes too many times,” she said.
Ludewig has met up with other seniors with similar interests. She kayaks with the Monday Paddlers, a group of more than 60 people, she said. Each week they pick a different destination throughout the Capital Region and Adirondacks and spend the morning out on the water. Ludewig likes that the members look out for one another and often recommend new and interesting places to paddle.
The group also put Ludewig’s husband at ease. He finds comfort in knowing his wife is not alone on the water.
The paddlers are just one of the groups that Ludewig belongs to. She is also a member of the Crooked Canes and Thursday Naturalists, both hiking groups in the Capital Region. The Crooked Canes can cover three miles in an hour, but the Thursday Naturalist botanize and don’t cover a lot of ground, she said. Instead they study the flora and fauna along the path.
Ludewig estimated that between 12 and 20 Crooked Cane members typically show up at any one time. They hike and cross-country ski together with some outings being more strenuous then others.
Staying busy is a matter of staying in touch with organizations that offer outdoor events. Ludewig is a member of the Friends of Moreau Lake in Gansevoort and the National Historic Battlefield in Schuylerville and as such is informed of guided hikes, workshops and boating trips.
Fairbanks, too, has had a lifelong fondness for the great outdoors. As a youth she learned wilderness skills and taught them to others as an adult. She especially liked being out in a canoe exploring the shorelines of rivers and lakes. After she retired as executive director of the Saratoga Center for the Family, she promised herself that she would do more outdoor activities. Like Ludewig, she signs up for programs that get her outside and into the woods. “With all that has been written about how important it is to exercise, I know that I need to exercise. But I just don’t last in a gym with machines,” she said. It’s nature that motivates her to fitness.
Her friend, retired architect John Riley, enjoys being outdoors too. He combines canoeing and walking with workout sessions at the YMCA. He had a heart attack 22 years ago that changed his life. “I instantly quit smoking,” he said, and began exercising.
Today, a robust Riley said he notices the difference if he doesn’t follow his fitness routine. “If I’m on vacation and don’t go to the gym for a couple of weeks, and then I start again, I notice it. There’s a difference,” he said. He is committed to making exercise part of his lifestyle and looks for others who are interested too.
Doris added that doing any activity with friends is more fun and motivating. “If you know someone is waiting for you, you can’t back out,” she said.
Exercising has the benefits of keeping seniors healthy and independent and improving strength, balance, flexibility and endurance. And for those who want to exercise, there’s another advantage as well. If you are a New York state resident 62 or older you may obtain free vehicle entry into state parks on non-holiday weekdays.
Once the snow falls, Ludewig will put her boat away. But that doesn’t mean she’ll be less active. She is an avid downhill skier who uses a short, shaped ski that is wide at the front, narrow in the center and wide at the back. “This makes it easier to turn. Having the right equipment makes all the difference. With the shaped ski, you use your weight to move. It’s less strenuous,” she said.
And, because she is a member of the 70-plus ski club, lift tickets are discounted and sometimes free. She skis at four local areas.
“We have a lot around us. Wonderful places to hike, kayak and be outside,” she said. The key is to take advantage of it.
Ludewig, who has arthritis and wakes up with aches and pain, said being an athlete helps her with everyday chores. “The more you use your muscles, the stronger you get,” she said, adding that she wants to be a positive role-model for her family.
“My granddaughter just turned 30 and some of her friends were teasing her about being over the hill.
“She laughed at them and said ‘I have a 79-year-old grandmother who’s still not over the hill,’ ” Ludewig said.
Evidently, she is succeeding in being a good example.