Skydiving at 80 and Rowing 3,107 miles.

Who goes sky-diving on their 80th birthday?

Who rows the distance between Paris and New York in just over two years at 80?

Doris Walsh does and you know why?

Because after her loving husband of 59 years passed away, four years ago, Doris decided she could either:

  • Stay home and grieve
  • Do something Gutsy.

So Doris decided to start exercising and developed a passion for rowing.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Doris in her cozy home over a cup of freshly brewed coffee. When Doris greeted me, I thought I had the wrong address and glanced at the unit number, just to make sure.  This woman seemed too young and bouncy to be eighty. I kept comparing her to relatives and friends of mine in their eighties, and thought she must be hiding some secret that all of us need to hear about. (Her secret below.)

“Where would you like to sit?” she asked, pointing to three different locations in her clutter-free living area. I picked her dining room table and Doris placed a small dish of wafers, to go along with our coffee. I noticed her fuchsia polished nails matched her lipstick.

Her tidy home and toned body made me realize: this woman takes care of herself and is disciplined.

Doris Walsh was born on February 1st, 1931, in Rosemead, California. She married at 17, and had seven children in ten years. All of her adult children are between 52-62.  She now has 24 grandkids and 17 great grand children.

After some background questions about how many siblings she had, “six” and whether she had a happy childhood, “yes” I wanted to prove something that I truly believed. In order to become “gutsy” in life, you must have traveled as a child, and Doris proved me wrong. She said she was rather shy as a child and never moved around more than a 45-mile radius, her whole life. She does believe that being raised to be “independent” as a child and not “coddled,” is very important though.

Doris believes she has done three major Gutsy things in her life:

  • She went back to school and became an RN (registered nurse) at the age of 56 when she no longer had kids at home.
  • She went skydiving at 80.
  • She started rowing and set goals for herself. Her first goal was 2 million meters, which she reached, 3,107 miles and her next goal is to reach 3 million meters. So far she’s rowed 1,864 miles this year.

Doris rowing and listening to music

Doris says that rowing relaxes and takes away any stress. She listens to music and gets motivated when she hears her husband singing, “Some Enchanted Evening” their favorite song when he was alive.

She has become a rowing champion and was interviewed in the Orange County Register.

“I put on my music and just row away. Since I made my goal, I have cut back and now train 3-4 times a week for an hour. I walk here and back home as well. That’s about a mile.”

Doris has a secret: it’s called discipline and setting goals. She says, anytime she says she’s going to accomplish something, she sticks with it.

It’s obvious that Doris and her husband were deeply in love during the entire 59 years they were married. Her daughter showed up during our interview and said, “My parents were joined at the hip. They were the perfect example of soul-mates.”

Doris told me that Faith, is what gets her through everything in life. She knows that she will join her husband one day.

When I asked her what other Gutsy things she would like to do, she mentioned “Sky jumping.” She said it’s different from bungee jumping, which she refuses to do as it can detach your retina. Doris said there’s sky-jumping in New Zealand where you can jump from a tall building. I looked it up and think this might be what she wants to do next.

Plus, Doris wants to keep sky-diving on every single birthday. The problem is her daughters don’t want to.

Perhaps I should volunteer on Doris’ 81st birthday on February 1st 2012, as I’ve never tried.

The secret is: Setting goals, discipline and sticking with it, as well as exercising as you get older. This is how you can make your life exciting and Gutsy at any age. Doris Walsh is proof. I forgot to mention Doris also walks everywhere, even to the grocery store, and does yoga which explains her flexible, youthful stride.

What do you think? Have you met any older Gutsy people? If so, please share what you admire about them?

Don’t forget our weekly “My Gutsy Story” contest. Great sponsors and prizes. Please read guidelines and submit here.

Comments (23)

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  1. Charle says:

    Doris is an inspiration to me and all she comes into contact at the gym, and now can be around the globe via “Gusty Living.” Thank you!

  2. Gutsy Writer says:

    Thanks so much for introducing me to Doris. I am so impressed with her and do hope that my blogger friends in Europe, Australia and Africa, meet her through this post. Perhaps they can ask her questions and Doris will answer them.

  3. Indeed, she doesn’t look 80 in the least bit! What an inspiration! I’ve been blessed in my life to have had many “Lady-friends”, women who were DECADES older than me, who had a tremendous influence on my life. One was my “adopted” grandmother; I met her when I was 6 yrs old and she was about 60. She took care of me and told me I could be and do anything, the possibilities were limitless. Another friend, Sally, I met when she was 80 and I was about 25. She led several lifetimes after her husband died. She out-ran, out-lived and lived an outstanding life until she was 93. The lesson I learned from Sally was that there is always time to do something more. My other friend, Pearl, is still alive and kicking, going on 90. She walks all over Philadelphia, volunteers everywhere and is a great go-to source for the local gossip. Her lesson to me – be generous to everyone. Thanks Gutsy, for posting this!
    Denine – The Bicycle-Chef recently posted..Food Finds: Green Giant Steamers & A Crustless QuicheMy Profile

    • Gutsy Writer says:


      I’m so glad you left such a wonderful comment about how we can be influenced by others, no matter how young or old.
      I think it’s important to focus on the upbeat people around us, especially when the media likes to focus on problems surrounding us.

  4. Lady Fi says:

    I must say she looks very youthful indeed. Lots of older people over here are very fit and young-looking too – I believe that this is due to healthy eating and lots of exercise outdoors.

    You asked about my camera and processing: Yes, I use a Canon 500D with a zoom lens, and no, I don’t change the colours in my photos. The pink sunset is unedited, in fact, because it really was that sizzling!

    I sometimes enhance colour or light or contrast in my shots – but I don’t use Photoshop as I don’t own it…
    Lady Fi recently posted..Tickled pinkMy Profile

    • Gutsy Writer says:

      Lady Fi,

      I know Sweden is like Denmark in that people ride bikes, stay healthy and it’s part of life. Why is it so different in the U.S.?
      I do love your photography and the colors are so amazing.
      Thanks for sharing.

  5. What an amazing story, Sonia! Doris doesn’t look 80 at all. I’m so inspired. This is exactly the kind of encouragement I needed today. Thank you both!
    Sandra / Always Well Within recently posted..Precise CommunicationMy Profile

  6. Maggie says:

    OMG Doris looks absolutely fabulous and I only hope I can look like her at her age. Maybe if I do as much regular exercise as her………… you think the dance-floor equals rowing, Sonia?
    I met a woman in Australia who after thirty-three years of an abusive marriage, one day walked out with only her handbag. She then had to endure a vicious backlash from one of her daughters although the other one was a good support. The woman went to live in a gated community where she could feel safe and became friends with another resident, a woman of seventy with whom she went sky-diving and travelling! She looked really heathy and was smiling and quietly vibrant. What a lot she had achieved in just eighteen months.
    Maggie recently posted..THE AUTOMATIC PILOTMy Profile

    • Gutsy Writer says:


      I think Doris started exercising at 76 when her husband passed, so keep dancing and then start rowing :)Skydiving is also helpful to stay young. I’ve never tried but really should.

  7. Rob-bear says:

    I don’t think Doris looks 80 at all. Did you check her birth certificate?
    And why one would want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, or off a completely sound building, totally puzzles me!
    Thanks for sharing her story.

    • Gutsy Writer says:


      Doris is well-known in her community and I know she has adult kids aged 52-62, so she’s telling the truth.
      Why not jump? That’s what keeps Doris youthful.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Doris is truly gutsy and amazing. This was a really enjoyable interview, Sonia. Do you think you will go skydiving next year?! I know I couldn’t!
    Stephanie recently posted..Kitchen CapersMy Profile

  9. neil bezaire says:

    Doris inspires all of us from the Jitterbug era. I bet she could still Jitterbug to the music of Harry James. Doris reminds me of the times I danced the bumble boogie at Twilight Park in Alhambra a few years back. I was a whirling dervish then but time has slowed me down; but I now realize, as Doris shows us, that it’s not necessary to slow down, just keep running as fast as one can until we cross the finish line. Way to go Doris. Thanks for your inspiration.



    • Gutsy Writer says:


      So glad you stopped by and left a comment. You know Doris, and I’m glad we have people like her to inspire all of us. We need more positive and less negative around us.

  10. Nikki says:

    That is a great story and so inspiring. Now my children are almost all grown up I am having adventures of my own. Doris makes mine seem tame. There is no way I would jump out of a plane and the only time I jumped off a bridge I was holding an abseiling rope.
    Doris is the kind of role model we all need.
    Nikki recently posted..Australia is not a bigger New Zealand (Part 2)My Profile

  11. Gutsy Writer says:


    So glad you came by and commented on Doris. I’m intrigued by the name of your post” Australia is not a bigger New Zealand” and am stopping by right now to read it.

  12. Penelope J. says:

    Here’s one lady whose youth, energy, determination, sparkle, and enthusiasm shine through. To look at her, you would never suspect she was anywhere near 80. I think it says a lot about her spirit and attitude, and sky diving and rowing are just two ways that prove how gutsy she is. While I would never take up rowing, I’m all for going in for some activities such as sky diving that I can physically undertake (bad back since I was a teen and a hip replacement). I did do some paragliding a couple of years back and want to do more and longer ones.

    Another proof of how gutsy she is, is how she overcame the loss of her husband of 59 years and is still pursuing further achievements.
    Penelope J. recently posted..Never Give Up on Your DreamMy Profile