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Dag Aabye - Normalising An Anomaly

Words:

Edd Norval
January 8, 2019

New Year, new you, right? Right. The trend of setting goals has been largely bucked this year. People are too cool, too on-trend to tell the world the same old thing on social media. Yet undearneath it all, our dreams and goals remain the same. We want to be happy, we want to be free and experience life. Cue Dag Aabye, the septuagenarian ultra-marathon runner.

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So, what's his secret? That might be a million-dollar question, but watching this video from The Atlantic, it's clear that he's doing what he wants because and how he wants to. It's not for other people. His reasons are right because they're right for him. That's a beautiful thing.


Aabye's concept of age is grounded in the idea of relativity. That is 'the absence of standards of moral and universal application'. Time is a construct and his perception of it jars with ours. When we reach a new birthday, we see a benchmark that entails not only a new number in its semantic form, but a limitation imposed by that arbitrary figure. Now that we're 50 we can't go for runs. Now that we're 70 we shouldn't leave the house accompanied.


Projecting reality can be full of woo-woo, but it can also lead to a very practical application in everyday life. At the age of 76, Aabye views life as life, not as a series of rules and limitations imposed by invisible forces. He projects the reality he wants simply by doing. He makes it work and things usually work out. For him and us.

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The Norwegian used to ski and even then he was different. Paths that others followed were of very limited appeal to him. Instead he liked to work on more unorthodox routes and do more unorthodox tricks. It wasn't a conscious decision to be contrarian, more an understandable failure to comprehend why people would so rigidly stick to certain things. We are given confines, rules implemented and held up by other people that believe in them.


His relationship with life is simple. It's a gift for which we should be thankful everyday. That we have been blessed enough to be here is enough to warrant not wasting time living only for others, but make our own way through it. There are plenty of people who are happy to let it pass them by. There are too few willing to make it stop.


Aabye's life is distilled into a quote from the film, "never die easy". Everything is, in some way, a fight. Aabye's chosen arena is his mind - it's here that he has managed to attain monk-like control. His everyday life unravels in the Canadian bush as he meanders through the capillaries of the forest, running well-worn trails whilst also manufacturing his own. He lives in amongst it all, not in a house, or a car, but an abandoned bus.

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It's probably not too much of a long-shot to guess that Aabye's life has been exciting. He was one of the first to tear down the virgin faces of Whistler and has also worked as a stuntman in films and played poker with Sean Connery. It might sound hard to top, but now he makes his money hustling pool at his 'local' bar, making enough to line his stomach with food and beer.


Health, like everything else, is a product of our mental wellbeing. Perhaps his most impressive display of mental strength is his record for being the oldest man to finish the annual 125-kilometer Canadian Death Race. It's not a one-off either, but a regular occurance, marked in his calendar as a day worth leaving his beloved woods for. His cupboard is full of t-shirts for those who have completed it.


With over 17,000 feet of incline in the race, it's not only the distance that make it a gruelling task. The man is as much myth as flesh and blood. He's seen by many as a hermit, a recluse, an eccentric. At these labels he laughs. That people even take the time out of their day to try to understand him, at the expense of using the time to understand themselves, is beyond him.

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Freedom is the thread that ties together everything that he does. There's no new year, no resolutions, just an unbreakable resolve to live another day and make the most of it. "I'm not afraid of dying because I'm not afraid of living" he says. It might look like a meme until you understand the life between the lines.


If our limits are all self-imposed, at least we are the ones that allow them to be - do they only exist because we are actually scared? If so, what of? Living? Surely not. Yet surely we are. Freedom is an attainable joy, so is love, laughter, health and happiness. We just have to allow ourselves to feel it. If there's anything to take into 2019 it's a lesson from the old man that can run much further than you. You are the master of your destiny and there's nothing to be afraid of in chasing it with all you have. Do it well and do it your way.

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