Arriving at the summit of Torreys Peak, Grant Shideler looked around and was amazed that the dozen or so hikers there were a third of his age.
He had dreamed of this moment for five years, ever since he broke an ankle descending neighboring Grays Peak. Now, at age 75, Shideler was king of the mountain, with a retinue of admirers.
A millennial woman on the 14,267-foot summit that morning last month expressed her homage by offering to record the moment for him. “Hey, mister,” Shideler recalls her saying, “may I take your picture using your camera?”
Shideler’s message from the mountaintop offers simple but earnest wisdom for millennials and middle-aged alike: The way he has lived, he says, proves that health and fitness are good for heart, mind and soul.
“Your body is nothing but a temple, a hallowed temple that deserves ultimate respect,” said Shideler, who was born 11 months to the day after Pearl Harbor. “If you do not respect your temple, it may fall down.”
The turning point for Shideler was in his 20s. At the time, he weighed almost 40 pounds more than he does now (150) and would make a decision that changed his life.
“It finally dawned on me that I only had one body, and I can’t take it down to Walmart to get an exchange or a refund,” the lifelong Denver resident said. “I realized if you eat right, exercise right, you have a very good chance of having a very good life — which I have realized.”
Shideler works out every other day at 24 Hour Fitness. When he broke his ankle in 2013, it healed nearly eight weeks faster than doctors predicted because his consistent weight-bearing exercise in the gym gave him unusually high bone density for a septuagenarian.
It’s all about survival of the fittest, he says, a concept where he finds useful metaphors.
Grant Shideler, 75, has been a fitness devotee for 50 years. In August, he climbed a fourteener, astonishing other climbers who shared the summit with him. “Health is a lifetime ongoing process,” he says.
Here are some pearls of his wisdom for all ages:
“Learn why the human body evolved as it has and work with that. Somebody who owns a race horse costing millions of dollars doesn’t put him on a bridal path just to have the grandkids ride him. You have to race that horse to keep it in shape. Our investment is what we do each day for our health. One way or another, it’s going to compound like an investment. If you compound it in the proper way, it’s going to pay great dividends.”
“The watchword is: Where am I now in my life cycle? If my health has changed, I have to change, too. We have to adjust to current reality. We realize we’re not as strong as we were at 20. Everything seems to slow down, and that is a fact of life. You have to deal with what you’ve got. Know your family tree and what genetics were gifted to you.”
Warming up before you exercise is especially important when you’re older. “And if you feel a twinge (of pain), stop immediately. That’s a message your body tells you, ‘Hey, you’re pushing me too far, I can’t handle this.’ “
“I look at a gym as an adult day care center which is just festooned with a lot of cool toys we call exercise equipment,” Shideler says. ” Many people look at working out as an effort they don’t want to spend. They do not understand the origins of the human body.”
Shideler grew up as a “very sickly” child, nearly dying because of a heart murmur. He got picked on because he was skinny.
“I wasn’t athletic at all, which was the big thing in those days,” Shideler said. “I couldn’t throw, jump, run, toss, leap.”
He got three degrees from the University of Denver, one of them in law. He worked in real estate property management and construction remodeling, then in the legal department for Travelers Insurance. He retired in 2008.
When he goes to the gym, he pushes himself hard. He’ll start with a minimum of 250 weighted crunches on a machine. He calls them “half sit-ups,” a concession to a “little arthritis” in his spine that prevents him from doing full sit-ups.
He will crank up a stationary bike nearly to the maximum he can handle, pushing hard for 15 minutes before cooling down for five more. He will go hard on a rowing machine for five minutes. He’ll hit a circuit trainer for resistance exercises and work out on a Bosu ball to improve balance and strengthen his ankles.
He puts high value on getting away from civilization, calling his outdoor excursions “therapy.” He considers them an evolutionary imperative.
“You’ve got to get back to nature because the human body evolved from nature,” he said. “It didn’t evolve from concrete or the Golden Arches.’”
He hiked three peaks this summer in preparation for his Torreys ascent. One day he walked up the slopes of the Keystone ski area. It took him 2 1/2 hours to climb 2,400 feet. At the top, a tourist who had ridden the gondola asked him how he did it.
“One foot a little higher than the other one,” he replied.
Then came Aug. 9 and the ascent of Torreys. As he approached the summit, he realized his five-year goal was no longer “a mere dream” but a “beguiling peak staring squarely before me.”
He also came to see his quest as a special way to connect with people across generations.
“When I summited, I told one hiker, ‘Do you know I’m approaching age 76?’ If you want to see an expression on a millennial’s face, that just totally blows their mind. … ‘Really, you, 76? Well, congratulations.’ “