I am an enormous fan of Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico. In fact, I have visited this incredible healing haven several times, and after each visit, I am completely inspired. As such, I think Deborah Szekely, The Ranch’s co-founder and the founder of Golden Door, is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. She is an amazing industry visionary whose ideas have inspired the spa and wellness world for decades. She’s also one of the most youthful people I’ve ever encountered, so when I realized she will be turning 90 this May, I was shocked. She’s got more energy than more 30-year-olds I know. Discover some of the secrets of her success, as well as her plans for the future, here.
What does turning 90 this year mean to you, and what about this milestone is exciting?
First of all, it’s immensely pleasing to have lived so long, but now that I’m here I don’t feel terribly surprised (if I can be so bold). Since my husband Edmond and I started Rancho La Puerta in 1940, it has touched the lives of nearly a half million people. And yet, the person who has learned the most—and benefited greatly from the healthy lifestyle we espouse—is probably me! After all I spent much of my life teaching people how to befriend theirbodies and joyfully extend their lives. It has been a privilege, a blessing,and a source of immense pride and personal satisfaction. I like milestones.They allow me, prompt me, even force me to re-invent myself. I have had manycareers—head of a government agency in Washington D.C., founder of various non-profit entities, creator of management book that has been used by Congress for many years…the list goes on. So rest assured: I’m trying many new things in my nineties!
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned over the past 90 years?
Edmond used to refer to Time as a painter—a force in our lives that paints over the pain and helps us heal. Losing the “Prof,” as we called him, and my son Alex were terrible times in my life, but they are no longer as immediate. I feel fine. I’ve also learned patience, because I am essentially an impatient person who, through these losses, had to learn that things will work out if one is patient. Thirdly, I’ve learned that the best way to get things done is to not write it down on a to-do list for another day. Just do it right away. I hate procrastination, and that has been the key to getting so much done that people are constantly asking me yet today, “How do you get so much done?”
What are you doing to celebrate your 90th birthday at home with friends and family, and at the resort?
For the past 20 or 30 years the custom has been to have small dinner parties, because I don’t like big ones where people have a difficult time getting to converse and know one another. Sometimes I go from one small party to another, each hosted by friends. A few years ago there must have been six different sets of candles to blow out, and I loved it every time. There will be one very big party this year: Rancho La Puerta built an enormous park for the people of Tecate, and it holds well over a thousand members of our staff, their family, and the community. We’ll have food and music in a setting that looks like a flower-bedecked Mayan temple.
What has surprised you most about the Ranch over the past 72 years?
It is a constant surprise! I never grow tired of feeling that it is a privilege to be able to help so many people, and how fortunate I am tohave found this calling. The beauty of nature also never fails to surprise me. It is never the same here beneath Mt. Kuchumaa, and it seems everlasting—but only if we protect and cherish it. The Ranch is a nature sanctuary, and there is never a day when nature—if you are out and about in it—will fail to surprise and delight you. I’ve also been surprised by the way everything grows at the Ranch. Whether a plant, building, or a program, we seem blessed with ideas and actions that start as surprising notions or experiments and quickly become mature parts of all that we are.
What are a few of your most-important tips on staying young?
I honestly believe that with every passing year you have to domore (rather than rest on the laurels of your age). Try something new!I’m starting with a more regular regimen of drinking vegetable juices. I have a theory that everything in the body works well-enough most of the time, but with the passing of years the body becomes less efficient. The natural tendency to slow down must be overcome—and juices, in this case, are a way to assist the body in processing a great deal of healthful nutrients that you may not be able to prepare, eat, and easily digest. “Staying young” by the way is a bad phrase, because I’m not young. But I do know that almost every cell in my body except in my brain and nervous system is fresh and new. That means a lot to mean to me. Every seven years 95 % of the body has more or less changed, with old cells being swapped out for new. I also have my “smidgen theory” and this resonates with my guests. I warn that a lifetime of “smidgens” adds up to trouble. The perfect example may be artificial sweeteners. A few packets every day quickly adds up to a truckload every decade. It’s a useful way for me to convince people to stop. Eat naturally. Beauty comes from a well body.
Where do you see the Ranch in 10, 20, and 30 years?
I have absolutely no idea, except it will be there, serving people. As people change the Ranch will change to serve their needs.
Your daughter, Sarah Livia, now heads Rancho La Puerta. What does that mean to you?
It has been a dream come true. What mother does not want to have her daughter bring her own vision to the family business?
Do you see your grandchildren taking over RLP management one day?
If they want to it will be lovely, but it will have to be up to them. I cannot plan their lives for them.
Looking over the past 90 years, what are you most proud of?
I have the Ranch and the Golden Door and my children and grandchildren. And, as I mentioned earlier, there are so many things I initiated. COMBO in San Diego, the Congressional Management Foundation, Eureka Foundation, to name a few. I think of these as entrepreneurial ventures. I love getting an idea and making it happen.