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Better late than never: Fulfilling a long held ambition

By Helen Carson

In an era when more people are making their fame and fortune at a younger age than ever before, we talk to four local women who had the courage to fulfil a personal or professional ambition later on in life, proving age really is no barrier.

Youth doesn't appear to hinder success as some of the richest and most influential people on the planet currently are barely out of their teens. From reality TV stars to the entire Beckham brood it seems youth is valued, and often rewarded with multi-million pound deals.

Hollywood golden girl, Jennifer Lawrence already has a much coveted Oscar statuette on her mantelpiece, along with a stash of top movie industry trophies - and she's just 24.

And when it comes to clinching lucrative business opportunities, the Jenner wing of the Kardashian clan are giving big sisters, Kim, Kourtney and Khloe a run for their money. Kendall (20) is now one of the hottest catwalk stars in Paris, while 18-year-old Kylie has lent her name to an upmarket nail polish brand. The girls also have joint projects which include a fashion line and a book among other things.

Former Girls Aloud singer, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini accrued a multi-million pound fortune long before she turned 30, while Essex's own Amy Childs (25), of TOWIE fame, has made £2.75m largely earned from her own beauty and cosmetic lines.

But where do the accomplishments of some young people leave others in their 40s and 50s in a world where it seems teens and 20-somethings are achieving all their milestones so early in life?

While these high-fliers may have youth on their sides, there are plenty of people who have accomplished something significant late on. Actor Morgan Freeman, for example, didn't land his first big role until Driving Miss Daisy - a film that he made when he was 52 years old. And Scottish singer Susan Boyle was 48 when she stunned the judges and audience alike with her Britain's Got Talent audition in 2008. Meanwhile the flame-haired beauty Christina Hendricks became a household name at the age of 32, after securing the role of Joan in Mad Men and her dapper co-star Jon Hamm was 36 when he was cast as Don Draper.

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder's best-selling series of books chronicled her childhood in the late 1800s and one was adapted into a hugely successful TV programme, Little House on the Prairie. But she didn't publish her first book until she was 64.

And let's not forget PG Wodehouse, who, at 93 years of age, worked on his 97th novel.

We talk to four local women who had the courage to fulfil a personal or professional ambition later in life, proving age is no barrier at all.

Edel Doherty (51), is managing director of Beyond Business Travel. She lives in south Belfast and has two grown up sons Chris, (32) and Damian, (27). She says:

I launched my travel business when I was 46, having worked at director level for a travel agency in Belfast for 17 years. My specialism was providing travel packages for the busines sector in Northern Ireland and up until March 2010 I had always been an employee. I always had ambitions to run my own agency, and when my two sons were at university I thought 'right, you have got to do this' - and I did it, and it has been amazing.

I started my business in the middle of the recession and many people were saying to me 'are you mad?' Nonetheless, I began to make plans. I downloaded a business plan from the internet - I didn't know what a business plan was at this stage - but once I got my ideas down on paper I knew I could do it. I have always been confident in my professional abilities and I knew I could deliver on the business plan.

One month into the business a massive volcanic ash cloud hit, grounding every flight leaving Europe and I did have a moment of self-doubt. However, I decided to look at the situation as a challenge and see if it offered an opportunity rather than seeing it as a setback. Once we (the business) got through that, everything was fine.

I also became chairman of the board at Women In Business - it was my first time as a member of a board, and this was great for me in terms of personal development. The organisation's board and members had confidence in me - they believed I would be great in the role. Sometimes people around you see abilities that you are not aware of yourself. That's why, as a business owner, I believe in the importance of feedback - often people aren't aware of the incredible talents they possess.

Now, five years into my business I feel that I am only starting. There were two members of staff at Beyond Business Travel at the beginning, one of whom was myself. At the end of the first year the business had a £1m turnover, and I knew then that we could do even better. We have a 15-strong staff now, providing a bespoke service for business travellers, which includes everything from taking care of car parking at Belfast City Airport to chartering aircraft, arranging meeting rooms and catering to special travel demands. Our typical client is a business which has a factory, suppliers or customers in another country and they range from local manufacturers to the companies involved in the growing filming industry here.

Women have so much to offer in the world of business and I wish there were more at the top level of organisations. But it is up to us to make sure we are well represented at the upper echelons of business.

The old-fashioned command and control management style you see in many businesses needs to change in my opinion.

I believe good leadership is about bringing people along with you because they want to, and there is a real skill in achieving that.

Nina Cristinacce (42), who is a volunteer at cancer charity, Macmillan, lives in Bangor with her partner, Shane Sunday. They have five children between them, Jago (14), Emma (14), Ryan (13), Alex (11) and six-year-old Cash. She says:

I got my first tattoo when I was 40, and it is something I had always planned to do since I was 16. A boy in my class at school got a superman tattoo on his arm, and I wanted one after that, but I never knew what design I wanted. As my life went on I had my children so money and time were spent on other things. I didn't get round to thinking about it again until I had suffered breast cancer five years ago. I also lost both my parents around that time too, and I thought to myself 'if I don't do this now, then I might never do it'. I was returning home from my interview with Macmillan to become a volunteer when I called into Alternative Ink studio to enquire about getting a tattoo done. Finding the right artist to do the work was important to me and I had done a lot of research online. At this stage I had decided to go with a tattoo which featured poppies and sunflowers - the poppies are in memory of my late parents both of whom were in the services, my mum was a Wren in the Royal Navy and my dad was in the RAF. And sunflowers are my 'happy' flower, I just love them. When I was having chemo a friend painted a picture for me full of sunflowers, so they mean a lot to me.

My tattoo starts on my left thigh and ends up on my back, finishing between my shoulder blades. It was never intended to be so big, originally it was supposed to just cover my abdomen and my hip, but the design just evolved. The reason I got it done initially was to cover some of my scars from having breast cancer. Actually, it still isn't finished after two years as there is a flower that needs to be added in. The amount of detail meant I had partial work done over several two-hours sittings, as it can get painful.

My partner, Shane was the artist I chose to do my tattoo and now we are a couple. I didn't mind if it was a male or female tattoo artist who did the work, their creative abilities were more important to me. We became friends during the tattooing sessions, then we ended up in a relationship with each other. I often wonder 'what if I hadn't gone there to have my tattoo done, what would my life be like now?'

At this stage of my life, I am so glad I didn't get a tattoo when I was younger as I probably would've gone for something which reflected the music I was into at the time, or what I thought was 'cool' then. Now, I have something that has so much meaning in my life.

Anne Hannan (50), who is partnership manager at charity, Marie Curie in Belfast, lives in Lisburn with her two children Sara (22) and son, James (17). She says:

I became the face of the Marie Curie/Belfast Marathon's poster campaign earlier this year which was aimed at encouraging people to take part in the event. I have trained all my life and am a keen swimmer and cyclist, and have always run for fitness. I also love competing for events, such as marathons, triathlons and the Iron Man challenge as it gives me a fitness goal to aim for.

As I was 50 this year and it was Marie Curie's 50th anniversary it made sense for me to feature on the posters which appeared on billboards all over the city. As an ordinary woman I'd like to think I appealed to those who wanted to participate in the city marathon without thinking it was some elite event. I didn't mind being photographed as I am used to overseeing our PR and marketing campaigns in my job. I have never done anything like it before and I must admit it was strange seeing my face on the side of a bus. People did recognise me when I walked down the street, they would stop me and ask 'are you that Marie Curie girl?'.

I ran the Belfast marathon for the first time when I was 40, so it seemed like a good idea for me to revisit it when I was 50. My first marathon was the 2001 event in London.

As I have gotten older I have started to do triathlons as the mix of swimming, cycling and running is more about endurance. Constantly running is hard on the joints and older people are more likely to have the right attitude to a distance activity which requires more long term focus. As I've become older I feel like I am more focused than ever before. Triathlons are also more accessible, more inclusive as they can be attempted by people with different levels of fitness. I will swim, cycle and run three times a week, but the reason I do it is because I enjoy it. I also do a lot of walking.

My children are grown up now, so I'm not needed at home to cook for them or help with school work, so I think women of any age should make the most of this time and get out and enjoy getting fit.

Marie Curie will hold a 10k Walk to Remember at Stormont on August 29, so that would be a good way to start.

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Yvonne Montgomery (57) works in the IT Department at Lisburn Council and lives in Carryduff. She says:

I was at a friend's barbecue in September 2004 shortly after I was separated from my husband. I noticed a motorbike parked at the side of this house and was talking to the guy who owned it. I said I had never ridden a motorbike before, so he lent me some leathers and offered to take me out for a spin later that week.

I couldn't believe the speed of the bike when I was on it, the acceleration which felt like it went from nought to 60mph in seconds. At that point all I knew was that I didn't want it to stop, I was having the time of my life. He suggested I get my motorcycle test which I did on my lunchtime at the nearby training school in Ballinderry.

The first time I rode a motorbike my heart was thumping in my chest I was so nervous. I passed my test in December 2004 and got myself a SV650 twin engine bike.

At this stage I was just tootling about on the bike at the weekend enjoying myself, but I really didn't have a clue about bikes so I decided to join a club. And I found the right one for me when at a bike show in the Odyssey in 2005. The Belfast and District Motor Club had a stand there but they were all about racing which I wasn't interested in at that stage. They invited me along to their club night and I've no idea why I went along because I am not an outgoing person - but I did. They have a lot of ex-racers among their members and it was really good craic.

The club are involved with the organisation of the Carrowdore 100 at Kirkistown, and I was taken to a race meeting where met others in the biking fraternity. Although I really enjoyed the racing I could never have imagined myself doing it, until I got the chance to try it.

The first track day I went out on my own, coming off the bike on the second day out. On the third day, though, I came off again and broke my arm and leg, ending up on crutches. All I could about was 'I really want to get back out there again', and was desperate to be better for the last meeting of the year.

By October I was out of plaster and bought another SV650 which had been prepped for racing. By Easter 2006 I was out on the grid with all the other racers, a year after my first race meeting in Easter 2005. Now, I spend my time racing thanks to a chance encounter.

I hate watching motorbike races because it scares the life out of me, but when you're out there it is brilliant.

I have raced at the Isle of Man TT and am just back from the Southern 100, also on the island, which is a very testing course - and I took to it like a duck to water. I have lost count of the number of fractures I've had, one time I broke five ribs, punctured my lung and suffered tendon damage, but all I that mattered was when I could get out again.

I was never interested in motorbikes or racing before my divorce and I regret that as I would have loved to have seen a rider like Joey Dunlop in his heyday. Racing is the only thing I put my money into now. If I see a dress which costs £70 I would think 'for another few pounds I could buy new tyres'.

When I am competing it is against 30 blokes as there are only four other women racing, and the guys do not want you passing them. There is no leeway given to a female rider. They don't want to suffer the embarrassment and slagging they would get if a woman beat them.

When I was in the Isle of Man a woman said to me she would love to race a motorbike, but felt she was too old at 51. I told her I was 57 and I was doing it. You are never too old to try something new, but don't say I might do someday because you've defeated yourself already.

No-one is going to do anything for you, you need to do it yourself because everyday you don't is a day less that you could be enjoying it.

Belfast Telegraph


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