Carolyn Hartfield, 68, is on a quest to get others in her age group interested in outdoor activities like hiking and zip lining, pictured here. “If people are exposed to more fun things, they would want to be more active,” Hartfield said. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

How ‘city girl’ became all about urging seniors to have fun outdoors

If Carolyn Hartfield could speak to her younger self and share what’s coming down the road, she might scare the dear girl half to death.

The 68-year-old Atlantan is an outdoor enthusiast who leads others on hiking, zip lining, spelunking, tree climbing, whitewater rafting — you name it — excursions. She has several thousand followers to her web-based Meetup adventure groups and is a leading voice for seniors, especially African-American boomers, encouraging them to get outside and try new things. She’s also discovered a love for senior Olympic sports, earning medals in national and world competitions and urging others to participate.

Carolyn Hartfield, 68, qualifies for cycling time trials for the 2017 National Senior Games despite not having practiced much. She had been on the bike only five to seven times. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: For the AJC

Her message in short: Get outdoors, try new activities, get healthy and have fun.

It just makes sense that “if people are exposed to more fun things, they would want to be more active,” Hartfield said.

All of this activity is a dramatic change from the younger, self-proclaimed “city girl” from Detroit who grew up shunning sports, the great outdoors and anything that involved getting dirty or sweating.

“We didn’t even go to the park,” she said. Indeed, Hartfield was 56 when she went on her first hike.

She had just moved to Atlanta and was invited on an outing with an African-American hiking group. To Hartfield, such a group was an anomaly. “You do what?” she asked. And while she was excited to participate, no one told her the hike was going to be a grueling climb up Blood Mountain along the Appalachian Trail.

But she loved it. Being outside among nature was invigorating, and she not only wanted to keep hiking but wanted to bring others along, too.

“That one decision changed my life completely,” she said. “I thought, there must be other people who felt like I did.”

Soon afterward, Hartfield was leading the hikes, and the group began to grow exponentially. She formed Hartfield’s Hikers, then started several online Meetup groups where people who were interested in outdoor adventures could find each other. Her group, Atlanta African American Adventurers, includes several thousand followers who go on all kinds of outdoor getaways.

Carolyn Hartfield, 68, wants to get others in her age group interested in outdoor activities like hiking. Here, she leads a hike at Sweetwater Creek State Park. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: For the AJC

Serena Garcia, communications director for AARP Georgia, discovered the group several years ago. Garcia said she had always been very engaged in outdoor adventures and wanted to join with others for regular outings. She called Hartfield the “ideal group leader” who is “energetic, inspiring and relatable.”

“She embodies all of these traits and helps guide the experienced and inexperienced in new journeys during each meetup. She is confirmation that life is about disrupting aging,” Garcia said.

Carolyn Hartfield, 68, wasn’t always an outdoor enthusiast, but once she got into outdoor activities, she wanted to share her enthusiasm with others in her age group. Here, she participated in a Treetop Quest Obstacle Course. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: For the AJC

Hartfield is especially interested in getting seniors involved. Two of her Meetup groups are for older adults: Atlanta African American Baby Boomers and OPALs – Older People with Active Lifestyles. Both are meant to encourage healthy lifestyles.

Hartfield said she frequently hears from participants on how being outdoors among nature has changed them for the better. She urges seniors to branch out and try activities they never thought they could do, which in turn instills confidence.

Carolyn Hartfield also qualified for the race walk competition for the 2017 National Senior Games, which will be held June 2-15 in Birmingham, Ala. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: For the AJC

Recently, Hartfield entered two sports to qualify for the 2017 National Senior Games: race walking and cycling. She had never participated in either, and had ridden the bike only a few times. But she qualified in both events, of course, and figures to get in a lot of cycling practice before the June competition.

“Right now, I’m truly living my best life. I’m meeting new people, doing new things. I’m just having a ball,” she said.

MEET CAROLYN HARTFIELD

Carolyn Hartfield, 68, of Atlanta

Adventure Outings Leader

Certified Outings Leader through the Sierra Club; certified in Wilderness First Aid through the Wilderness Medicine Institute of National Outdoor Leadership School; Certified National Interpretive Guide; community partner with REI and the Georgia Conservancy. First African-American elected board member of the American Hiking Society (April 2015).

Healthy lifestyle coach; speaker; writer; spokesperson for senior groups, including community outreach for AARP Georgia.

Founded and organized several web-based Meetup groups where people interested in active healthy lifestyles and outdoor adventures can find each other and participate in planned activities and trips.

These include:

Atlanta African American Adventurers

OPALs — Older People with Active Lifestyles

Atlanta African American Baby Boomers

For more information: carolynhartfield.com

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