By MIKE MERINO
May is Older American’s Month, a time to celebrate seniors who live
life to the fullest, and what a more perfect example than Tampa`s intrepid Alder Allensworth, who lives life as one big adventure.
To date, the 60-year-old
female cancer survivor has
sailed 1,200 miles solo on
a small boat, backpacked
500 miles alone on an
pilgrimage from France to
Spain, become a registered
nurse, authored an award winning
book and continues
to be part of a sailing
foundation for the disabled.
“Having had cancer
makes each day I am given
a gift,” she said. “I want to
make the most of the gifts by sharing my life with others.”
Born into a military family at Camp LeJeune, N.C., Allensworth’s father was a Navy dentist who served the White House during the Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson administrations. Her mother was a coal miner’s daughter who rose from poverty to receive her college degree.
“I want to make the most
of the gifts by sharing my life
The military family moved continually from city to city and from country to country. She graduated from high school in Scotland, completed her
bachelor’s degree at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., and earned her master’s in music at the University of Miami.
In 1990, when she was 33, Allensworth was unexpectedly diagnosed with a rare
cancer – Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma of her left tear gland. After extensive surgery to remove the left eye, socket and tear gland, the tumor was successfully eradicated, making her the first person ever to survive this form of deadly cancer.
To overcome the physical, emotional and social scars, she rallied her spiritual energies and went back to work as a music therapist, pondering her future as a woman with an eye patch.
She moved from Tampa to Key Largo to become a dive instructor. She also taught music to young students and facilitated dolphin therapy groups.
After two years, Allensworth once again returned to the Tampa Bay area where she continued to provide music therapy to at-risk children.
A life-altering moment came when Allensworth was helping a student in crisis deal with his scars.
“I will not be ashamed of my scars, if you take off the eye patch and not be ashamed of yours,” he said.
She boldly accepted the challenge and only wears the patch during festive events like Tampa`s Gasparilla invasion parade.
Allensworth’s father taught her how to sail.
It’s a skill she has pursued throughout her adult life and
in 2000, she accepted a challenge to sail solo on the 12-foot
dinghy, Prevail, in order to raise money and awareness for
sailors with disabilities. Her remarkable 1,200-mile journey
down the Gulf of Mexico, through the Everglades and up
the Atlantic to Moorhead, N.C. was chronicled by cable
TV giant, CNN.
When she returned home she joined a group of like-minded friends and, in 2001, formed the non-profit, Sailability Greater Tampa Bay, which empowers people
with disabilities to learn to sail on their own.
At the time, the type of special boats needed were made in Australia and would cost $5,000 each. So, Allensworth took the CNN video to the city of Clearwater and received approval to use the Clearwater Community Sailing Center on Sand Key. She approached local organizations and cobbled together enough donations to pay for the first six boats.
During this time, Allensworth met and married disabilities advocate, Ben Ritter, who commented, “There’s never a boring moment when living with Alder.”
Life took a twist in 2003 when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She and her father became the caregivers. Then, a few years after her mother’s death,
Allensworth became her father’s fulltime caregiver until he died in 2017.
During that time, she studied nursing and wrote her memoirs. At age 59, she became a registered nurse.
After her father’s death, Allensworth needed time for healing and reflection so decided to tackle the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. It’s a 500-mile religious pilgrimage that begins in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, crosses the Pyrenees, and continues westward across to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
She also submitted her
memoir, Prevail: Celebrate
the Journey, to the Richter
Publishing 2017 Writing
Contest and won a book
contract. The book was
published in February and
is available on Amazon.
Her friend, noted sailor
and former News Channel
8 anchor, Bob Hite, said:
“Alder`s a remarkable
woman that has taken
on many challenges and
still remains one of the
most modest and humble
individuals I`ve ever