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Special gives a glimpse of lives in which age is just a number

Forget role models for kids at least for an hour tonight at 9 _ and meet some role models for a segment of the population that we like to call senior citizens.

Ageless Heroes examines the lives of 10 achievers, all age 65 or older, all of whose lives demonstrate the widening gap between how old we actually are and how old we think and feel we are. It's a gap that seems to redefine what it means to be old.

The stars of this PBS special range in age from 65 to 81 and in vocation from high-fashion model to politician, athlete to author, news-gatherer to musician.

Joe Paterno, for example, arrived at Penn State University as an assistant football coach the same year President Bill Clinton turned 3. At 70-something, Paterno's still the man who makes the Nittany Lions go. His secret?

"Once you lose that competitive edge, that's when you get old," he says.

It's a perspective shared by every interviewee:

"I think we get more competitive as we get older." _ Tennis champion Dodo Cheney, 81.

"I'm going to play as long as I can make my fingers do what I want them to do." _ Jazz pianist-composer Billy Taylor, 76.

"There's time to sleep when you're dead." _ UPI bureau chief in Washington, D.C., Helen Thomas, 77.

"I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do when I grow up." _ Minister, congressman, mayor, ambassador Andrew Young, 65.

Even those whose bodies have betrayed them find ways to keep a healthy perspective.

Says dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham, 80, "I'd still have arthritis if I weren't working, so why not work?"

Not even Cunningham's "bad ankles" have limited the development of his free-form style. He simply now uses computers to choreograph movements he cannot demonstrate.

His caveat: Get outside yourself.

"Why keep doing things you already know?" he asks.

Ageless Heroes provides 58 minutes of inspiration to "attack rather than retreat," stellar advice for anyone of any age.

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