For one man, the journey is what makes life sweet.
Age is just a number for Dale Sanders. He’s canoed the Mississippi River, paddled across the state of Missouri, and thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail—all since he turned 80. For the 83-year-old, who in his younger days held a record for Underwater Breath Holding and garnered national and international titles in spearfishing, adventure is nothing new. But these days, the Grey Beard Adventurer—who earned his nickname in part thanks to his long salt-and-pepper beard—taking his adventures to new limits.
Just after his 80th birthday, the Bartlett, Tennessee, resident tackled the Mississippi River, paddling its length from source to sea in 80 days. He set a record, becoming the oldest person to solo-paddle the river’s entirety, and raised $23,000 for juvenile diabetes research in the process.
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The next year, at 81, Sanders took on the Missouri American Water MR340. It’s all about endurance and speed: The 340-mile team-paddling race must be completed in less than 88 hours, and in 2016, only 2/3 of the teams succeeded to do so. Sanders became the oldest person to finish that challenge too.
Most recently, the Grey Beard Adventurer hiked the Appalachian Trail, becoming, at 82, the oldest person to thru-hike the iconic trail that stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
“People ask what kept me going, and it’s the encouragement of my followers,” says Sanders of his success. “With people encouraging me and saying good things to me and looking up to me, I couldn’t quit.”
This year, though, Sanders plans to take a well-deserved break. He’ll stay at his Memphis-area home with his wife, enjoy time with his grandchildren, and give motivational speeches. But the Grey Beard Adventurer believes he’ll be ready for another limits-testing challenge by 2019. “I’m thinking of doing something big again,” he says.