Everett Kalin has long been an inspiration to his granddaughter Sidney, a sophomore human development and aging major at the USC Leonard Davis School and an avid hiker and adventurer.
And it is no wonder why.
At age 92, Everett jumped out of a plane, fulfilling his dream of skydiving. The next item on his bucket list: scaling Yosemite National Park’s iconic Half Dome, a challenging journey up steep granite that the U.S. Park Service warns is arduous and not to be attempted by anyone unprepared or out of shape.
That’s not Everett. To get ready for the 21.5-mile roundtrip hike, he climbed all 16 flights of stairs in his retirement community building multiple times a day and walked several miles around a lake near his home five times a week.
For this quest, Sidney, 19, and her father Jon, 57, joined him.
Their July trip made national news and turned fellow hikers into a traveling fan club as the trigenerational trio made their way up the nearly 9000-foot dome. Rangers let the other climbers on the route know that Everett was possibly the oldest person ever to summit.
“When we finally got up to the top, there was a huge cheering section there that were yelling for Jon and Sidney and me and that felt very good,” he said.
But it is granddaughter Sidney who is perhaps his biggest fan. Her close relationships with her Opa Everett and her other grandparents is what inspired her to pursue a gerontology degree – a field she didn’t even know existed until she came across a Tik Tok about the USC program.
Now, she and Everett are social media stars – the video she posted of their climb went viral, amassing more than 16 million views. Their endeavor showcases the power of intergenerational bonds and how much younger generations can learn from Everett and the way he approaches growing older.
“He keeps creating new experiences and reasons to keep pushing,” said Sidney. “I think that’s really important for anyone, to set goals and keep going after them to give yourself a purpose.”
Everett doesn’t see himself as an outlier. He says his fellow senior living community residents are always going to concerts, serving on committees, or traveling to the city and describes an engaged and vibrant lifestyle that is anything but retiring.
“It’s just a treat to experience a bunch of people who feel glad they’re here and eager to try this or to try that,” he said. “And that’s what I would encourage anyone to do, whatever their limitations or handicaps, to do what you can do.”
Everett had his own role model who inspired his love of adventure. His mother. Just a few years shy of her 99th birthday she climbed aboard a pontoon boat in Canada to see migrating whales.
There’s still time for Everett. But for now, he’s content to stay home for a while, where he lives with his wife of 64 years, Clara. Sidney, who plans to become a geriatrician, hopes they can next plan a trip to Europe and spend a month hiking the 620-mile-long Camino de Santiago in Spain.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Everett. After all, his motto is “keep on truckin”. Now that he’s back at sea level he says the journey up Half Dome wasn’t too hard. He initially had some trouble ascending the challenging, cable-free subdome section — imagine scaling a super-steep, slick granite ramp. Rather than standing upright, he tried to move forward using his hands and knees. This caused some scrapes and some worry.
“At that point, we were like, if he can’t figure out how to walk up this section then he’s not going to be able to make it,” said Sidney.
But he did make it and his approach to overcoming that challenge is one we all can learn from.
“I figured out it is easier if you just lean forward,” he said.
A lesson for climbing and a lesson for life.