102-year-old Rancho la Puerta founder isn’t worried: ‘I’ll be an old lady!’

Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Kate Winslet, Jane Fonda and Bill Moyers have all stayed at the famous house Rancho la Puerta wellness resort and spa, a stunning collection of casitas, pavilions, pools and mountainside gardens on 4,000 acres in Baja California, Mexico.

But the property’s biggest star is Deborah Szkeley, who co-founded the farm with her husband in 1940, and who today — at age 102 — embodies all that the property aspires to deliver: wellness. , longevityand peace of mind.

“The morning I turned 100 years old, I lay in bed and thought, ‘Huh, I’m 100 years old. What’s the difference?’ I couldn’t think of anything,” Szekely said Luck, She recently sat down for an interview in her hotel room in New York City, where she had flown from her home in San Diego to speak at two different health conferences. “I’ve had a lovely life and when it’s over, it’s over. But I like it,” she said. “I really, really don’t suffer from worries that I can’t do anything about. Otherwise I will be an old woman! But where I can do something, I will do it.”

The Brooklyn native has accomplished many incredible accomplishments in her life, including founding and running Rancho la Puerta and Golden Door, a Japanese luxury spa and resort in San Diego (which she sold in 1998). At the age of 60, she ran for Congress and served as president Pan-American organization; At the age of 80, she realized her long-standing dream and established New American Museum and Immigrant Learning Center in San Diego.

It’s all an extension of her adult years, rooted in values ​​such as a healthy lifestyle, vegetarianismand sustainability was brought up by her mother, an Austrian Jewish immigrant and “health person” who was an RN and vice president of the New York Vegetarian Society, who brought her family into All-fruit diet. In 1934, she made a bold decision that changed their lives forever.

“It was a recession. And my dad was very depressed,” recalls Szkeley, nee Shainman, who was 12 when her mother caught him looking at a life insurance policy and feared he was going to commit suicide.

“My mother came to dinner one day and said, ‘We’re leaving in 16 days.’ My brother and I and my dad looked at her and my dad said, ‘Where to?’ ‘Tahiti.’ And we said, ‘Where is that?’ and she said, ‘I don’t know. But here is the ticket.” She chose the destination because of the fresh air and fresh fruit—both of whom were in short supply in New York during the Depression—and soon they all boarded a steamship, spending several weeks traveling by sea to their new home.

“And from then on, we had a different life,” the centenarian said, adding that she remembered “a lot” of the years they spent in Tahiti, living a rustic lifestyle in a hut grass, and she still remembers that. “thinks in French most of the time” because of her schooling.

While there, the family met another health-minded transplant: Edmond Szkeley, aka “the professor,” a Romanian immigrant and burgeoning health guru, known for Articles and lectures on ancient philosophy and religion, exercise and the value of fresh organic vegetables. They all eventually returned to America and Deborah’s family attended his summer “health camp.” That’s when Deborah decided to work for him and she and Edmond fell in love. They got married when he was 34 years old and she was 17 years old.

“I did it as a way to escape,” she explains. “He’s the head of the British International Medical and Educational Association, and he’s coming to England. And I thought, ‘I’ll go to England, and if everything goes well, fine. Otherwise I’m free. I can go to France.” And it worked. So I stayed.”

Established Rancho la Puerta

The new couple, looking for a place to set up a medical camp together, made their way to Baja, partly as a way for Edmond to avoid the fact that he did not have immigration documents allowing him to stay in the US . There they settled on a large plot of land at the foot of Mount Kuchumaa, writing to friends with invitations to come and stay in the land.

“For $17.50 a week, you can bring your own tent,” she said. She added that it worked out because “my husband is very famous.”

They created their own permanent tents, which were quickly replaced by tents made from military surplus packing crates, then added vegetable gardens, exercise classrooms, a dining hall with mostly fresh vegan dishes (today the menu is pescatarian) and an Edmond book press. Advertisements in Los Angeles attracted Hollywood crowds – as did Golden Door, the film Deborah created in 1958 after traveling to Japan dozens of times a year for inspiration.

The couple had two children and today her daughter, Sarah Livia Brightwood, who planted thousands of trees on the property, runs the resort.

“She’s the boss,” Deborah said. “She makes the decision… I don’t interfere.” (One of her grandsons—one professional surfer—on the board; the other is a recent summa cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California.)

Today Rancho la Puerta, which she calls “the farm,” is “a small town” with 400 employees. It charges guests $5,100 or more per person for week-long packages and has 20 full-time fitness instructors, 11 gyms, a cooking school, an organic farm, three treatment centers, and more. spa treatments, programs including hikes and group workshops as well as peaceful nature trails for take a walk—not a golf cart in sight. Of the 10,000 acres, only about 300 are actively used by customers, part of a conscious effort to keep the footprint as small as possible.

“We are not growing,” says Deborah. “By design, we are smaller than we used to be.”

Deborah is on the property three days a week and still hosts weekly Q&A sessions with her guests to a packed house, often fielding questions about how she can live a long and healthy life so. Everyone wants to know which type Water she drinks—a question that made her laugh—and what is her skin care routine, she replied: “Soap and water.” As she tells it Luck, “It’s not my profession. The fact that I don’t worry is more important than water. I have really come to terms with what I can and cannot do.”

But really: What is her secret?

Her healthy lifestyle—including never eating Red meat and still take a walk ran a mile every day even after breaking her hip twice (she now uses a wheeled walker)—no doubt a contributing factor to her longevity. But Deborah knew that wasn’t all: Her father lived to be 81, but her mother died of cancer at 60. Edmond died in the 70s (after they separated), even though he refused surgery. Umbilical hernia surgery. “He died of a strangulated hernia, right after arriving at the hospital,” she said. She lived longer than her brother. And then came the greatest loss of her life: the death of her son (which she refuses to detail).

But when it comes to living longer than many people, Deborah says, “I don’t think about it. You just need to accept.

She tends to have more young friends, which helps. “I always had younger friends—because of the conversations, the theater, the plays we went to, the activities we did, you know? They are in their 40s,” she said. “It’s fun.”

Her advice to those seeking longevity is to keep both body and mind active—and like her, read widely, with a penchant for the mysteries of ninth-century Japan. “I like Buddhism,” she said. “I call myself a Jewish Zen Buddhist.”

But for Deborah, an active mind does not include contemplation.

“The problem is I don’t allow negative thoughts. We are in control. And we can say, ‘I don’t want to go there.’ You just don’t go. I don’t,” she said. “I mean, the world is a terrible place and terrible things happen all the time… But I’m trying to help as many people as possible to live healthier lives.”

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