For Larry and Jeannette Burns, life is one new activity, sport, hobby and adventure after another. The couple mindfully cultivates a very active lifestyle of health and fitness, and there’s no slowing down. In fact, since both officially retired from longtime public safety careers, the pace seems to be ramping up in the Burns household.
Larry, 61, is truly a Renaissance man. Beyond his athletic endeavors of triathlon, cycling and competitive ballroom dancing, his eclectic interests span the gamut from woodworking to piano, guitar, gardening, photography, scuba diving and cooking. Jeannette, at 56, has a passion for running, golf and, of course, ballroom dancing. She is also the consummate cheerleader in her husband’s life.
Road to Healthy Aging Paved With Gratitude
After more than a quarter century together, the couple celebrates every day, following a near-fatal cycling accident that almost took Larry’s life 16 years ago. They don’t take a single day for granted, and celebrate the joy of aging healthfully together with every new activity and adventure.
And we’re not talking ordinary adventures, here. Larry Burns has completed Race Across America (RAAM) twice in 2005 and 2006 with Jeannette close by as a member of the support crew.
Known as ‘America’s Toughest Bicycle Race,’ his four-person mixed team finished the 3,000-mile race third place overall on their second attempt, covering the distance in 6 days, 19 hours. That was four years after his life was nearly ended in a tragic cycling accident. As if that wasn’t enough, in between the RAAM events, Larry completed three Ironman triathlons and 50K ultra distance run.
Day of Destiny
May 20, 2001 is a day the Burns family will remember forever. Larry was on the front of a weekend training ride, and the pack was descending a long hill. Speeds were high. And that’s when his front wheel began to wobble uncontrollably, sending Larry across the centerline and into oncoming traffic. The horrific head-on impact with a Jeep left him barely clinging to life.
You would think that nearly six weeks in the hospital, nine surgeries to repair his skull and face, the loss of his left eye, a nearly severed left arm and multiple fractures in his lower body would leave Burns a broken man. Not so much.
“When I was in the hospital, people would come to me, and there were questions as to whether I would ever walk or talk again,” Larry says. “My attitude then and my attitude today is the same. If I can’t walk or run, I’m going to get a fast wheelchair. I’m not capable of just quitting.”
Living in the Moment
Larry bristles as he recalls remarks from well-meaning friends that the accident was God’s way of telling him to slow down. “No, I had an accident. Bad things happen sometimes. It doesn’t matter. The accident and injuries don’t matter. The only thing that matters is what I do from that moment forward. That’s how I live my life.”
Nearly one year to the day after the accident, he completed the Oceanside (California) Half Ironman, speed walking the running course because he couldn’t run yet. He dedicated that race with a grateful heart to his doctors and dear friends athletic coach J.R. Rosania and elite cyclist/physical therapist Terry Roach.
Ironically, that same year, Jeannette was struck by a van while running and suffered a fractured tailbone, skull, arm and elbow. As she tells the story, she glances at her husband and thanks him for being painfully honest with her when she got down on herself during recovery. “He said to me, ‘If you’re going to give up after one accident, you might as well throw dirt on yourself and give up entirely.’”
On this day, Larry is supervising construction of a backyard oasis and raised-bed garden surrounding his new man cave. This is no ordinary man cave, by the way. It’s an elaborate, fully-equipped, professional woodworking shop where Larry will spend hours turning out beautiful creations.
He enjoys woodworking because it stimulates him mentally and is does not demand the high volume training of endurance sports. He also recognizes that following the second RAAM event, life was getting a bit crazy.
“I was working, training 30 hours a week, and I was really fit. But I also realized I was being pretty obsessive and one-dimensional. I had no time to play the guitar or piano, and I really enjoy doing a lot of different things.”
His athletic endeavors came at a the expense of other activities he wanted to pursue. Larry is a firm believer these days in balance and a well-rounded life. “You have to make time for your friends and other people in your life,” he says.
Even so, athletics is part of the daily mix for these active retirees. They will run the La Jolla (California) Half Marathon on April 23rd. And in August will do the San Diego Half Marathon together. For an added challenge, Larry has also signed up for the Ironman Maryland in October of this year.
Magic of Movement
The Burns’ recipe for healthy aging should be no secret by now. “Keep moving to live and enjoy life,” Jeannette says. “Age is an attitude.”
Larry pauses and tells a story about people assuming fitness is easy for him. They assume his athletic endeavors give him an edge that’s out of reach for most. “You have to work at it. Every day. When I was in my wheelchair, going from that to simply walking again, that was not easy.”
“My way is actually the easy way. Because I work out and keep doing means I can keep doing. If I want to go to the beach tomorrow and surf all day, I can surf all day.
Way of Life
“If you make exercise a part of your life, the workout can be the greatest part of your day,” he says. “You’re living, breathing, sweating. This is what life is all about.” In fact, Burns is absolutely certain that his high level of physical fitness at the time of his crash saved his life.
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to discover a love for fitness, Jeannette adds. “I’m not an Ironman, but I’m still doing. I love half marathons. Everyone has to find their own passion, their own place. Try walking 15 minutes to start. It’s all about baby steps. I did the New York City Marathon at 41. It was the most amazing adventure of my life!”
This accomplishment came two years after Jeannette was diagnosed with osteoporosis and suffered two broken legs, a broken arm, hip and toe. Her determination rivals that of her husband’s. “I don’t want to be a used-to-be. I want to continue my path as I still am.”
“When you stop, it’s over,” Larry interjects. “Life is about doing. It’s not about laying there waiting for death. Anything less is just waiting for the end to come. And I’ll be darned if I’ll do that.