(COURTESY VIVIAN OKE)
Vivian Oke’s son-in-law cleared a path to make sure she could still practice her outdoor activities.
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For Kanehsata’kehró:non Vivian Oke, there is no such thing as being too old.
It might be too cold, too windy or too icy, but the soon to be 82-year-old woman never wants her age to be something that stops her from remaining physically and mentally active.
“I feel much better when I’m active,” said Oke. “The years go away!”
Every single day, Oke dresses up warmly, takes out her earphones and, to the picturesque rhythms of the 50s, she walks around her yard in Kanesatake. Her son-in-law, with whom she resides, along with her daughter and grandson, blew away a snow path around the house to keep clean for Oke.
“In order to get me and my heart right up, I gotta walk,” said Oke with a laugh, after explaining that she usually walks two to three laps, of 150 feet, before calling it a day.
There is something in the way Oke describes her daily activities that encompasses her spirit – her passion for the outdoors is equal to her desire to live a healthy life. When she isn’t snowshoeing, she can be found filling one of her 13 bird feeders or playing games with her grandson.
One of the rare beauties of the pandemic is that it has allowed us to rediscover the outdoors. The popularity of cross-country skiing sky-rocketed, most parks offer skating rinks, and endless wood trails are traced each weekend by people eager to leave their houses.
However, the retired teacher didn’t discover fitness recently, it was always a part of her. Oke recalled that growing up in Kahnawake, her and her siblings would always play outside.
“That was in the 40s and 50s,” said Oke. “We didn’t have TV, bicycles or the usual toys, so we made our own fun. I continued that when I was an adult.”
During her career, she was able to share her passion with her students, who she took on canoeing and camping trips, skating or skiing. She said she even took other classes that weren’t hers, as some teachers believed themselves to be too old for this type of adventure.
But Oke knows that mentality is the express ticket for being prematurely old, and she is right. According to various studies, while most people would be more careful as they become older, a high level of exercise actually improves heart functions for seniors.
Those who have remained active throughout their lives have defied the aging process and can show immunity, muscles and cholesterol levels of a young person.
Oke’s secret is that she started young and kept going.
When asked to give a piece of advice for the youth, who are often believed to spend too much time watching TV or playing video games, Oke rather prefers to address her wisdom to other elders.
“Read and do activities to stimulate our brains,” said Oke. “That’s extremely important.”
She explained that previously, she used to go twice a week to exercise at Kanesatake Riverside Elder’s Home, where she witnessed the devastation of Alzheimer’s.
“When my girlfriend was placed in a home, I used to go visit her and I continued to talk to her as if she were still there,” said Oke. “But she didn’t know me, she didn’t know her parents or children and she was young. She was about 60 when she was first diagnosed.”
After the disease took away her best friend, one of Oke’s priorities quickly became not only to work out physically, but also to work her brain.
Oke will be turning 82 on Valentine’s Day and considers herself extremely fortunate that so far, she kept any form of illness away from her. Her birthday celebration might be quieter than previous years, but it will most definitely be filled with a deep breath of cold air, squirrels chasing birds and the sound of her snowshoes crushing the snow.
Virginie Ann – Local Journalism Initiative – [email protected]