When people see stories about people exhibiting extraordinary fitness for their age — like this one, about a 71-year old hiker who just completed the Pacific Crest Trail — everyone tends to assume that they earned it. And many surely did! But what I think, more and more, is how lucky they also are. “Amazing what a 71-year-old can do,” one commenter says. Yes. But it’s also amazing how lucky that 71-year-old is.
- Lucky above all else to have the genes for it, to not be sabotaged by biological destiny.
- Lucky to have dodged all the injuries, infections, and other acquired pathologies that disable so many people.
- Lucky to have avoided major psychological traumas or the many mental health issues that make it well nigh impossible to be focused and disciplined.
- Lucky to have been well-cared-for as a child … and then lucky for much longer to have had the social advantages, money, and freedom for another few decades of good self-care.
Most fit older people have indeed worked hard for it, of course, and many actually overcome all kinds of adversity, and they do not feel "lucky." They may be bit too proud of their accomplishment, too smug, or even lack empathy for the people who were overwhelmed by one too many challenges. Anyone who is still fit at sixty has been lucky as well as well as tough, whether they realize it or not. For every person like that, there are more who worked just as hard, but their misfortunes were too great for their resources. Remember that serious diseases and poverty alone account for hundreds of millions of people who will never enjoy being fit.
So I don’t think luck gets enough credit. We are too eager to give credit to diligence alone, perhaps because it’s so inspiring. The miracle of fitness is particularly wasted on the young, but few fit people at any age seem to realize how much it is an ephemeral gift from the universe, something that most of humanity either never gets to enjoy in the first place … or only for a few short years before it collides with fate.