I met Suez Jacobson when I sat (briefly) on the board of directors for Great Old Broads for Wilderness, at the same time she did. We bonded immediately over our shared commitment to wilderness preservation, writing, outdoor sports, teaching, and hand-written letters. When I started thinking of “everyday athletes” in my circles that I would like to profile here on 50 is the New Forte, Suez was one of the first people who came to mind.
Suez retired from teaching economics at Regis University in Colorado last year, and devoted herself to producing a documentary, Wild Hope, which “tells the story of our deep spiritual connection to the natural world.” The film premieres later this month at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival and has already won a Merit Award from Impact DOCS. Suez talks about the film in this podcast interview with GrowthBusters. She is also a talented poet and has been devoting more of her time to that craft since retiring. (Here’s a fitting example.)
My questions are in italics. Suez’s responses follow each one.
You live in Colorado, now. Where did you grow up? Have you found that your fitness and athletic pursuits evolve with your geographic location?
“I grew up in Salt Lake City in a time and culture that was not female-athlete friendly. But my parents ignored the norms and got us all into swimming, tennis, biking, skiing and Girl Scouts. I started swimming (my dad’s sport) competitively at age 7 – pretty early in the early ‘60s. And I started Little League Tennis (my mother’s sport) at 8. I was a much better swimmer than tennis player, so I focused more on swimming as the years went on, though I never stopped playing a little tennis. Still, in the summer, I take a session of clinics and have a yearly show down with my younger sister in MN when I visit for her birthday. More fundamental to my core being and my work now is that I began to spend time in the wilderness areas, Lone Peak, Twin Peaks and Uinta, very near Salt Lake City, in my teen years. These places were my solace and ballast. Since leaving SLC at age 32, I have lived all over the country – Richmond, St. Louis, Colorado Springs, the East Bay of San Francisco, Saratoga Springs, NY and Denver – there’s always a pool and a place to ride a bike, but many of these places don’t have the opportunities for hiking and backpacking that I grew up with.”
Do you call yourself an “athlete,” or do you call yourself “athletic?” (I think there’s a difference, but you can always tell me I’m splitting hairs.)
“I definitely think there’s a difference. I am an athlete! I call myself an athlete because I consider this to be a core part of my identity. It’s not a side bar. It’s who and what I have been since I had an identity. I wanted to be a professional athlete, but didn’t have the talent or discipline. So now I’m just an athlete.”
Have you been active all your life? Did you pick up any new sports or activities in adulthood?
“When my son was 3, I began running. At this time – 1978 – running was somewhat of an anomaly. I’m not even sure I had ‘running’ shoes. When I moved to St. Louis (1986), I began to swim with a masters’ team and was the oldest (34) and slowest. My young comrades in the fast lane dared me to do a triathlon. Never one to turn down a dare – wise or unwise – I took it and have now done at least 20 triathlons – sprints and Olympic distance, never an Ironman.”
Did you compete in high school or college sports? Have you competed as an adult?
“Believe it or not, there were NO women’s sports at my High School – not even gymnastics or tennis. Then I dropped out of college after my first year to move to Alta to ski (and work) and didn’t go back until I was 26. So, I never competed in college either. Even in my first year of college, I was burned out on swimming and wanted to teach skiing on the weekends, so I did not look into joining the swim team – the logical sport for me at the time.”
What – if anything – has been the most difficult adjustment about biological aging?
“It’s funny. Even when I did my first tri in my early 30s, and told my boss I had won my age group, he asked, ‘Was there anyone else in your age group?’ (There was.) He couldn’t believe old ladies did these things. In my 40s I stopped running completely because I thought my knees couldn’t take it. Then I ran my one and only marathon for my 50th birthday, did 10-minute miles with smiles, but was certainly a geezer then. Since, I’ve done three half marathons, but will not do any more. But I have kept doing sprint tris until just the last couple of years. And this year I’m again thinking maybe I should do another one. I know that I cannot comfortably train for and do an Olympic distance these days and usually my swimming routine is half of what I did on the masters’ team in the ‘80s. But the competitive urge just doesn’t shut off. If the person in the next lane is anywhere near my speed, I pore it on. I’ve paired down, obviously, but I’ve made peace with it.”
What are your favorite activities, now? Have you had to give any up because of injury or fear of injury?
“I love to swim, ride my bike, ski, long board, play a little tennis (no way I could play every day) hike and backpack (relatively short distances). I run only once a week these days and as I said, stopped running in my 40s because of knees. I’ve been told I have ‘severe arthritis,’ and sometimes my knees do not cooperate, but I’m resisting the knife with all I have.”
Me, too! Are there any new-to-you sports that you are tempted to try?
“I really want to learn to snowboard. But … mostly it’s a financial issue. It’s so expensive to rent equipment and take lessons. And I love to ski and can ski for cheap with local ticket packages bought in the fall and boots that I’ve been told by the young guy demoing skis ‘belong in a museum.’
This summer my Great Old Broads friend and I are going to do the Sneffels Traverse between the San Juan huts in SW Colorado.
She went to the Boundary Waters with me two summers ago – another Broad trip.* I had wanted to go since I was 16 and found it absolutely magical – a really big wild place. I would go every year if I could swing it.
Being outdoors, acting like a kid is the joy of life.”
*Great Old Broads for Wilderness organizes some spectacular wilderness walks and work trips – fun and educational at the same time!