When Craig Bassett and his wife retired to the Comox Valley from North Vancouver six years ago, he had never been in a kayak and didn’t own a bike. He watched as his Island neighbours vigorously pedaled uphill to a coffee shop perched at the crown when he was invited along. Not having ridden since childhood, he bought an old bike from a neighbour. Upon tackling the incline, he was embarrassed to discover he couldn’t make it halfway up. “I thought, to hell with this. I’m going to need to work at it if I want to get any better,” he says.
In the years since (and a few higher quality bikes later), Craig is at the front lines of numerous cycling events. After his photo was used in promotional posters for Simon’s Cycle YANA ride (a charitable event that raises money for local families who seek medical treatment for their children), his friends jokingly referred to him as “poster boy.” One day, Craig rode from his home in the Comox Valley to Campbell River and back, a trip that’s approximately 110 km. For someone who didn’t start riding until after 65, the adage that you’re never too old to try something new is a theory he’s tested.
Raised in Vancouver, Craig worked as a teacher, counsellor, and mediator in Burnaby for 34 years. For the past 14 years, he has worked part-time as a faculty associate in UBC’s Department of Education, something he’s still able to do from across the Strait of Georgia. However, he says that retirement on the Island has rendered those career stats irrelevant.
“When people here ask, ‘what do you do?’ they aren’t referring to whether you’re a doctor or a postal worker, they’re asking what you do as in what activities you take part in.” For Craig, the answer is as long as a weekly grocery list. He’s the president of his area’s Probus chapter, a social and activity club for retired and semi-retired residents, which has branches across Canada. He downhill skies, sails, rides motorcycles, scuba dives, and now even kayaks in his own backyard (or, in the water that lines his property). He leads the kayak section of Probus, despite only stepping into one a few years ago.
Craig’s nickname is “salty dog”– the “dog” is a reference to his last name, and “salty,” an allusion to his love of the ocean. When speaking about the water he says, “I’m either on it or in it or under it.” That love of the sea was cultivated in childhood by Craig’s father who had a penchant for fishing. Although Craig grew up with the occasional afternoon spent fishing and taking trips to Mt. Seymour to ski the fresh snow, he doesn’t characterize himself as inherently athletic; most of the activities he now pursues he took up after moving to Vancouver Island.
As Craig has gotten older, he says his perception of physical activity has changed; he’s realized how important it is to link it to health. Despite his younger days spent at the helm of a sailboat, he recognizes that despite the wellness being outside provides, it wasn’t great exercise. Once he incorporated activity that challenged his body, he began to see a difference. Since living on the Island, he has lost 20 pounds. “I’m much fitter at 70 than I was at 50,” he says.
The names of Craig’s last three boats have been the same: Aristos, a Greek word that translates to “do the best you can.” It’s a philosophy that has been paramount to his life – whether he’s guiding the student teachers he works with or applying it to each new task he faces. The difference between struggling to be “the best” (a near impossible feat) and simply “doing your best” is critical; it’s something Craig practices.
He remembers this year’s YANA ride as a particularly challenging experience. Although it wasn’t a race, he says, “I like to push myself and really go for it.” This meant bettering his previous time – 55 km in as close to two hours as he could. Riding alongside 175 other riders, he was on track to do that, in synch with the top dozen riders for the first 40 km. Then he got a cramp in his leg.
“It would’ve been easy to quit,” he says, “to throw in the towel when it didn’t go as planned.” But he didn’t. He knew he couldn’t keep up with the fastest cohort, so he fell back into the next group. Although he may not have gone as fast as he hoped, he ended up beating his previous time by a minute or so. His motivation stems from his belief, “We don’t know how long we’re going to be around. I’m 72. We need to make the most out of every day.”
If there’s one thing Craig’s a “poster boy” for, it’s a saying that’s etched into a plaque his daughter gave him: “It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years.” Craig believes that regardless of one’s upbringing or athletic proclivities, anyone can lead a more active and engaged lifestyle, and they should – especially when afforded the time that retirement gives.
“Maybe you’ve watched other people do an activity or seen it on TV and thought, ‘that looks like fun, maybe I could do it on some level.’ And you can,” he says.
He underscores that you don’t need to be an Olympian or perform at a BC champion level to make great strides. His advice is to start small and feel good about the gradual achievements that are made. Physical activity can take a heftier toll on a senior’s body, so assessing your health and focusing on what you can do is the best route to success. If physical activity isn’t an option, get more involved in social events.
“Signing up for events is a way to ensure you actually go through with it. It’s about making that commitment to yourself and doing the best you can,” he says.
If you’ve never stepped foot in a kayak or haven’t ridden a bike since you were young, you’re not alone; Craig Bassett said the same thing before he retired. With an itinerary that could challenge any west coast adventurer, Craig proves that age is just a number – and, sometimes, the higher the number, the more time and fulfillment you can bring to your days.
december 2016 INSPIRED senior living
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