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Four Boomers Who Are Mastering Their Second Acts

Danny Thompson is breaking records piloting race cars at more than 400 miles per hour, while Carol Masheter has been scaling the tallest peaks on each continent. Nils-Erik Aaby is shredding powder on ski runs around the world, as Melissa Davey wraps up postproduction on her directorial debut.

Millennial wunderkinds?

Think again. These impressive, inspirational activities are the bravado of baby boomers all on the other side of age 65 – and they aren’t slowing down any time soon.

Danny Thompson: Born to Race

 

Danny Thompson, 68, came into the world with motorsports in his blood. His father was the 1960s racing legend Mickey Thompson, and his mother was an amateur drag-racer who went into labor with him while she was tinkering with a car engine.

Thompson started racing at age 9 and says that all he’s ever done is build race cars or work on them. “I like to be on the gas all the time,” he said, “just like my dad.”

Thompson took a pit stop from the industry in 1996, but armchair enthusiasm didn’t sit well with him.

He came out of retirement and built a car on the existing chassis of his dad’s famously fast 1968 racer. He keeps it purring along the dry salt lake beds of Utah and Nevada, winning acclaim and awards while keeping his dad’s legacy alive.

“Racing keeps my mind and body sharp, and pursuing something I'm passionate about is an important source of motivation as I get older.”

Up next? Thompson will take to the Bonneville Salt Flats in August at Speed Week 2018. As usual, he’ll be kicking track and taking names at speeds faster than a 747’s takeoff.

Carol Masheter: Climb Every Mountain

 

Childhood polio and a heart murmur may have colored some of Carol Masheter’s early years, but she overcame those challenges and soon set out on a path filled with adventure.

She backpacked and biked throughout life, but never considered herself a serious athlete. Then, at age 50, after experiencing what she characterized as “a period of loss, grief, anger and confusion” and a resulting desire to pull herself together emotionally, Masheter revisited a dream first conceived during her high school years: high-altitude mountaineering.

At that time, Masheter had a satisfying career in the public health sector and academia, but the adventure bug had bit hard. And her dream had progressed to new heights: she wanted to climb the Seven Summits – the highest mountains on each continent. By age 64, she had almost reached that goal, but knew she needed more time to dedicate to closing out the endeavor. Masheter retired three months after turning 65 and completed her goal the following year.

Today, at age 71, she is a motivational speaker and continues to travel internationally, snowshoe, hike and rock climb, in addition to the volunteer work, yoga, painting and gardening she enjoys at her home in Utah.

“Retiring can really be the first step to the rest of your life,” she said. “I feel grateful that I’m still healthy enough to do the things that make me feel my best self.”

Nils-Erik Aaby: Joie De Ski


Nils-Erik Aaby was practically born wearing skis. The Norway native grew up in a small mountain town where he slalomed incessantly until wanderlust struck and he garnered a scholarship to attend college in Wyoming.

Aaby worked his way over on a steamship, went on to study business and earn a PhD, and jumped into the workplace. Employment took him around the U.S. and Europe, and he never even thought about what retirement might look like.

“I enjoyed my work, but there were times I felt like a robot,” the father of three said. “As the days and years went by, I knew I needed to reassess what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I wanted life to slow down.”

Aaby retired at age 62 and has found time to reconnect with childhood friends, bond with his grandson, and hone his skills as an amateur carpenter.

And despite having both hips and one knee replaced over the past few years, he maintains his passion for the outdoors, including biking in the warmer months and, of course, skiing.

“If you do something with passion as a kid,” he advises, “make time for it as an adult, and keep it alive.”

Melissa Davey: Lights, Camera, Action


When Melissa Davey was out for a drive a few years ago she ran into a crowd of people filming near her home in Valley Forge, Pa. As a longtime movie buff she zoomed in to discover they were working on M. Night Shyamalan’s latest flick.

She learned about a contest being held to spend a day on the set with Shyamalan and jumped at the chance. Two weeks later she was on the set. During a lunch break, Shyamalan asked Davey what she did for work and after her explanation he asked, “What do you really want to do?” Davey responded, “I want your job.” With a smile on his face, Shyamalan told her to go for it.

At the time, she had a career in Social Security law and disability case management. Even though she was afraid that people wouldn’t take her seriously, she realized that there were things in life that she still wanted to accomplish, and one of those was to try her hand at filmmaking.

Davey gave notice at work, and 12 months later began production on “The Beyond Sixty Project,” a documentary film exploring the lives of women over age 60 who, much like herself, have taken on fresh challenges in their professional and personal lives.

“Take the detours when you have the chance,” Davey recommends. “You are never too old to find out what opportunities may be waiting for you.”

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“There are no second acts in American lives,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously wrote. English literature students and book clubbers continue to debate the meaning of that line, but Thompson, Masheter, Aaby and Davey are likely too busy to argue. They are pursuing their passions and focusing on what makes them happy. For them, the curtains are up, and it’s show time.

*All photos are courtesy of the photo subjects.