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Retirement: a time to climb to new heights

May, 2009

Donald Flam and his wife, Randi Greenberg Photo: Martin C. Barry

A 65-year-old man who is taking part this month in an expedition up Mount Everest demonstrates how some retirees continue to enjoy physically challenging activities.

“Before I made the decision to get involved in this adventure to go to Mount Everest, I didn’t really work out or do much exercise,” says Donald Flam, a Hampstead resident.

“Your choices are to stay at home and vegetate and mentally grow old fast, or do some physical activity. It’s difficult not to dream about going on such an adventure. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined not only having this opportunity, but being capable of doing it.”

Flam is going to Everest as part of a group of 25 people who are raising funds through donor pledges for the Make-A-Wish children’s foundation. He is the oldest member of the group. Make-A-Wish hopes to repeat the success of their 2007 expedition, when another group of climbers reached the summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro.

Located in the Himalayas, Mount Everest is situated between Nepal and Tibet. A seasoned professional climber will lead the group up the world’s highest mountain. After answering an advertisement in a local paper, Flam spoke with the guide, who assured him he’d be able to endure the trek, which is only to the 17,000-foot base camp, and not to the summit of the 29,000-foot Mount Everest.

Flam is remarkably fit even though he never bothered much with physical activity till he turned 60. “I was always careful about my diet,” he says. “By nature I am slim. I was never overweight. But I guess when you get to be closer to 60 and you go to the doctor every year you start getting concerned about your health. I became more conscious of what I was doing and I did start to do some walking around. But never would I in my wildest dreams have thought that I could undertake such a venture.”

Before committing himself about eight months ago to the trek, walking was his principal mode of exercise. “I’d walk on a Saturday or Sunday for an hour-and-a-half,” he says, adding that he increased his level of activity during annual winter vacations in Florida.

“There’s no question that if you do any kind of physical activity, it’s good, not only for your body, but for your mental well-being.

“At 65 you do get some aches and pains,” he adds. He recently received a clean bill of health and his doctor’s OK to go on the trip.

While Flam had some exposure to outdoor living in his youth, he’s done nothing comparable to what lies ahead. The training he’s undergone in preparation has included a trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, scaling Mont Saint-Hilaire, and climbing the back of Mont Tremblant, which took nine hours despite its minuscule stature compared to Everest. There have been five major treks altogether.

“Part or the reason you do the treks is to learn some climbing techniques,” Flam says. “The other reason for these full-day treks is to get to know your climbing companions. We’ll be gone for 21 days, of which 17 involve severe climbing up to the base camp.” He’s aware that oxygen starvation will be the greatest concern as the climbers get closer to their destination.

How does his wife feel about her husband going off on such a demanding adventure?

“I’m the athlete in the family, the one who climbs and jogs and does boot camp,” she says. “But when he decided to do this, I said ‘okay’, and there were times when in the back of my mind I said ‘he’s not going to do it.’ But slowly I saw that he was persevering and he is going to. I think it’s just great – and it’s for a great cause.”

Flam says he’ll be relying on mental strength as well as his physical prowess. He’s paying nearly $9,000 out of his own pocket for the adventure, and he’ll be raising about $14,000 in pledges for Make-A-Wish. His group aims to raise more than $250,000 altogether. For more information or to pledge a donation, visit the expedition’s website at dia/news/read/1006



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