Aging no deterrent to taking on new challenges

On a weekday afternoon in July, surrounded by his family during their annual vacation at Witch Meadow Lake Campground in Salem, 86-year-old John "Hughie" Green paddle boarded for the first time.

Green is no stranger to trying new things at an older age. The Montville resident took up kayaking last year to accompany his daughter, Anita Tudisco, during open swims as she trained for triathlons.

The penchant for taking on new challenges seems to be a family trait: Tudisco started running at 53 and competed in her first triathlon last year, at age 58. The father and daughter were recently featured in Pfizer's "Get Old" campaign, a program devised to "support a conversation about aging and living better," according to the organization's website.

Tudisco, who does clinical research at Pfizer, was recommended by a coworker when the company asked for nominations of people taking on new challenges later in life.

After hearing Tudisco and her father's story, Pfizer organized a photo shoot and took video of Tudisco and her father as they swam and kayaked. Pictures of the father and daughter went up on the side of the Pfizer building in New York and Pfizer sent Tudisco to their headquarters to meet the president of the company and the woman who organized the campaign.

Tudisco said the pictures on the side of the Pfizer building - some of which featured her and her father, while others showed different people - were 15 by 30 feet. Visiting New York and seeing the giant photos was "so much fun," she said.

People on the streets did double-takes when they saw Tudisco and her father standing in front of the photo, and some even stopped and asked for pictures with them, she said.

Originally, Tudisco started walking after noticing she had gained about 20 pounds while working and taking classes at the same time. She said that little bit of exercise worked its way up to running half-marathons and then to an interest in competing in the triathlons sponsored by Pfizer.

There was a problem, though: Tudisco didn't know how to swim. She had splashed around in lakes as a child, but never done what she called "proper swimming." So she dismissed the idea, and when Pfizer started offering a duathlon - running, biking and then running again - she enthusiastically signed up. It was when she arrived at the start line and saw the other runners - all men, in their 30s and very fit, said Tudisco - that she started worrying.

She came in last.

"So I said, you know what, I'm going to learn to swim," said Tudisco. Her brother had learned to swim as an adult, so Tudisco started meeting him for lessons.

"Having a relative teach you to swim is the best way to go because they don't baby you," she said, explaining that her brother really pushed her to learn. Starting out was embarrassing, said Tudisco, because everyone else at the pool was swimming athletically but she was in a corner learning how to properly breath and blow bubbles.

Tudisco worked on her swimming for a year before competing in a triathlon, supplementing her brother's instruction with YouTube videos. There came a point, she said, when she knew she had to move out of a pool and take her first open water swim, as she would have to in a triathlon.

When Tudisco's husband wasn't able to accompany her in a kayak while swimming, Green volunteered for the task and bought a compact kayak that would fit in his SUV. He accompanied his daughter to Eastern Point in Groton for her first open water swim and his second time on a kayak.

The water was "so cold," remembered Tudisco, probably not even 50 degrees. She went numb as she got in to the water, and soon told her father that she wanted to quit. Green would have none of it and pushed her to keep going, insisting that all she needed was to start moving.

So they made it a routine: Every Saturday morning, starting in April and continuing though the summer, they'd meet at a beach and Tudisco would swim while Green kayaked. Green bought a smartphone and started mapping out Tudisco's swims, keeping track of the miles.

Then Green got hooked on kayaking, going out for miles with Anita or her sisters. He spends the summers in Florida and bought a kayak down there, bigger than the one he had in Connecticut. He started going on kayaking trips with retirees 20 years his junior.

When he came back to New England, he had to buy a new kayak because the compact one wouldn't go fast enough for him. "It's a good workout when you go fast," he said.

"He can't help himself," said Tudisco. On a 95-degree day in July, she said, he tired to convince her to race. When she said she didn't want to because of the heat, he jokingly rammed into her kayak.



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