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PEOPLE Deborah Szekely On her 90th birthday, the extraordinary Szekely embarked on a new career as the Wellness Warrior


World War II was in full swing when Deborah Szekely and her husband Edmond founded the health retreat that would grow to become Rancho la Puerta, the award-winning destination spa in Mexico. Now – 74 years later – Szekely is hot on the tail of the US government, lobbying for better food policy and seeking to educate the public on health issues. Liz Terry talked to her about her life and work


“Nothing in my body is 90 years old apart from my knowledge,” explains Deborah Szekely to her attentive audience. “Be- cause the body largely renews itself every seven years, so very few things in me are any older than that. “And our bodies are absolutely nobody’s


responsibility but our own. Don’t forget that ultimately no one else really gets the rewards for taking care of that body apart from you.”


I’m at Szekely’s weekly lecture at Rancho La Puerta, in Tecate, Mexico – the destination spa she founded, initially as a health retreat, with her late husband Edmond Szekely – and she’s playing to a full house of spa-goers.


50 LEISURE HANDBOOK 2014


Deborah Szekely photographed by Victoria Will at Rancho la Puerta


We’re in a beautiful wood-beamed room with sweeping views over rolling wild gar- dens and craggy, mountains. The crackle of concentration in the room is palpable, because when a 90-year-old with the vivacity, passion and focus of Szekely gives you health advice, you tend to pay extra special attention. She has great power to influence people with her words, as witnessed at the 2012 Global Spa and Wellness Summit in Aspen, when, as a keynote speaker on health, she moved many to tears with her powerful oratory. “I’m so fortunate I’m able to communicate my feelings about subjects I feel passionately about,” she remarks in our ongoing correspondence.


The Rancho La Puerta lectures give Szekely the chance to share her knowl- edge and philosophy with guests and to encourage the attitudes and behaviours that underpin the ethos of the place. “What you’re doing at the Ranch,” she tells everyone, “is not worrying about los- ing a few pounds, it’s beginning a conver- sation with your body – which means listen- ing. You can’t have a conversation without listening. It’s a two-way partnership. “And once you begin to listen, you’ll be amazed at the rewards – the body wants to live and to thrive, it loves to be healthy and it can be our choice to be healthy. There are a few who have health issues, but for most of us it is a choice. Gaining and losing weight, for example, is a lot of work for the body. It copes, it manages, but it would manage a lot better if we paid it more attention and didn’t make it work so hard at pointless things. “Everything at the Ranch is designed to


teach you to hold hands with yourself,” says Szekely, “to encourage you to learn to listen to the messages your body’s giving you: when you get a headache, for example, there’s a reason. You might not have slept enough, not eaten enough, had a fight with your friend or be dehydrated. Whatever the reason, it’s a message and you need to pay attention and fix it. Our aim is for you to go home with a new respect for your body. “As you wake in the morning,” she advises, “take time to stretch and feel


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