JON AUSTRIA/The (Farmington) Daily Times
FARMINGTON (AP) – It took his old hands a few minutes to tie a rewoven figure-eight knot through the loops on his 40-year-old climbing harness.
At times he struggled to keep his footing because of a bad ankle.
But to celebrate his 95th birthday last week, John Rusen reached the top of the 30-foot climbing wall at the San Juan College Health and Human Performance Center.
Rusen has a 5-year-old tradition of climbing to the top of the climbing wall for his birthday.
“I was a little rusty,” he said after the climb. “It was a little bit harder up there than it used to be. But that comes with age, I guess.”
Rusen said he’s been fascinated with rocks and climbing since he was a child. He’s summited several Colorado Fourteeners and started technical rock climbing more than 40 years ago.
“I was climbing boulders when I was 6 years old,” Rusen said.
Relying on gear much older than the typical climber at the college’s climbing wall, Rusen looked the part of an experienced, although aged, climber.
He kept his arms extended and paid close attention to his feet, working them up the wall to avoid wearing out his arms.
He rotated his hips and knees left and right to put himself in the best position.
And Rusen’s belayer, the person holding his rope, never had to take his weight until he reached the top and was lowered back to the ground.
“I’ll see you next year,” Rusen said just before briskly walking out of the gym to pick up a relative who was arriving at the airport for Rusen’s birthday party.
A widower of 14 years, Rusen lives alone and has a motor of energy that amazes and inspires people close to him.
“His enthusiasm is very contagious,” said Lisa Chrisman, Rusen’s next-door neighbor. “He has to stay active. He knows that if he stops, he stops - but he enjoys it.”
Rusen said he works every day to keep his mind and wiry muscles in shape. He takes his golden retriever for a walk each morning, golfs twice a week – even in winter – chops wood, dances, hikes and skis.
“I don’t do structured exercises, but I do something every day,” he said. “I have a yellow Labrador, and she insists I go walking every morning. That gets me ready for the day.”
A retired engineer for Schlumberger, Rusen said he reads two books a week and takes courses at San Juan College to engage his mind. He’s currently enrolled in a mineralogy course.
“My idea is that you have to keep learning,” he said. “You’re dying unless you’re growing and you’re growing when you’re learning.”