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Culture

Where in the World Is Olivia Affuso?

A Mexican fiesta. Niagara Falls. A sunrise hike in Nepal. An intrepid, single Sisters reader shares lessons learned from her bucket-list journeys.

Just before her 49th birthday, Olivia Affuso, a health equity researcher based at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was thinking about all the things she’d accomplished in life. And while she was proud of everything she’d done, she was eager to do more. So, she started drafting a 50 before 50 list — a list of 50 new things she wanted to try from her 49th birthday to the big 5-0. She shared the list with family and friends and on her website Olivia Adventures.

“I took a look at the list and realized immediately that there was no way I could do all of those things in one year while working full time,” Affuso says. “But the list helped me to focus on things I really want to try even if it takes forever.” 

So, what began as a 50 before 50 list has become a bucket list of adventures, and Affuso thinks you should get moving on a list of adventures, too.  

Affuso, now 54, has hiked 100 miles on the Appalachian Trail and visited Niagara Falls and Nepal. She’s taken a ride in a helicopter and gone skydiving. She’s tried aerial yoga and Zumba and practiced a Day of Silence.

Create a list that pushes you to do more of the things you love. Affuso loves running, traveling and being in nature. So, many of the items on her list are trail runs she hopes to complete.

“My goal is to run a 50K trail race in every state in the U.S., but I also love running through cities,” says Affuso, who has been an ultramarathoner since age 44. “I love running in new places. I think it is the best way to see a place. I have also met a lot of really cool people running at races across the country.”

She kicked off her 50th year with a 50K in her home state of South Carolina. She’s also run a 50K in Texas, Florida, Washington, Tennessee, Kentucky and Wisconsin.

“I do a lot of solo travel because I want to do really crazy adventure stuff and not everybody wants to do that,” Affuso says. “Someone might assume that I have no fear of anything … but there are things that still make me think twice before I do an adventure.”

Despite her decorated passport, Affuso was once afraid of flying. But instead of allowing that fear to clip her wings, she learned all she could about airplanes. “I actually talked to pilots and engineers,” she says.

Affuso’s hiking and camping adventures lead her to spend a lot of time in the woods, which means she has to be prepared to face two of her other fears — lightning and bears. “I have seen bears when I’ve been hiking near the Smokies,” she says. “But I do things to reduce my risk of running into a bear.”

She’s just as prepared for bad weather. “I learned all the lightning safety protocols,” she says.

Instead of letting fear stop her from seeing the world, Affuso learns all she can about the things she’s afraid of, and that knowledge allows her to feel the fear and do it anyway, as the saying goes.

If you aren’t traveling and creating your own adventures because you’re afraid to go it alone, Affuso says to remember you don’t have to. If your family and friends aren’t willing or able to take a journey with you, you can join a travel group for women or enlist a travel guide to help you.

During her trip to Nepal, a travel guide took her on early morning hikes that offered gorgeous views of the Himalayas. When she went to Mexico she partied with the locals and turned to them for safety tips.

After her 50th year, Affuso kept adding adventures to her list. This year she plans to swim with manatees, run Roan Highlands and take surfing lessons.

Affuso is recently divorced, but this hasn’t stopped her stride. “My tribe is everything,” she says, adding that she continues to enjoy adventures solo and with family, friends and others who love the outdoors as much as she does. “This list helps me think about what brings me joy,” she says. “I think all women should create some sort of list for themselves.”

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