More: Aside from doing DWTS, you are the Fitness Ambassador for AARP.
MN: I have been in the role for about four years now. When I go to these conventions, I get really inspired by the people who come there and take my sessions. Their attitudes are just so positive. I preach to them about getting out there, trying new stuff—go do something unusual and take a chance.
More: Are you telling me age is a state of mind?
MN: I have been saying that forever. I feel young and still go out there without thinking about how old I am. When you do stuff, it makes you feel young. When you don’t do anything and sit around, it makes you feel old.
More: How does dancing make you feel?
MN: Dancing makes me feel alive. This has been a real challenge for me, and when I am challenged, I feel so full of life.
More: I get the impression you are embracing your age and getting older.
MN: I don’t really think about it. I don’t let age defy me, and I certainly don’t let it limit me. Age will never decide what I can and cannot do. If I can do it, I will do it.
More: Last I checked, you were an engaged woman. Will your fiancée, Julia Lemigova, be cheering for you in the audience?
MN: She will come in April.
More: Have you both ever tried dancing?
MN: We have been to a club, but nothing like this. She wants to dance as well and do DWTS. She is very elegant and beautiful and even started taking dancing lessons in France. I think she would be great at it.
More: Have you and Julia thought about getting married one day?
MN: That is not doable because she is not a U.S. citizen. When we can do it, we will.
More: If you could get one do-over in life, what would it be?
MN: [Fighting back tears] Leaving my family was pretty hard. But I would do it again, only this time I would try to convince them even harder to come with me. When I left Czechoslovakia, it was 1975. When I defected, it was my dad who didn’t want to take a chance, because he didn’t speak English and would basically have to start over at an older age.
More: What did you learn from each of your parents and still today apply to your everyday life?
MN: From my dad I learned how to be fair. He was a big stickler for fair play. Although I had that quality in me, my dad just reinforced it. My mom taught me to just get on with life. She had a lot curveballs thrown her way so . . . [Cries].
More: You have suffered a lot of sadness in your life, such as the loss of both of your parents. Who was your rock during those difficult times?
MN: My mom passed away four years ago, and I feel so lucky I had her for so long. My dad passed away 10 years ago. I had my parents throughout my whole career, and I credit them for helping me get to where I got. I also had a very close friend pass away recently. Although the last few years have been pretty rough and I lost the people close to me, I still have a great circle of friends, family and Julia. They all helped me get through those difficult times.
More: How did those events shape you into the person you are today?
MN: I think coming from a Communist country, I am so grateful for what I have now and here. I am still so grateful for going to the grocery store and being able to buy everything. Where I grew up, you didn’t have any of these possibilities. I think that shaped me more than anything, even though my parents shaped me into the person I am. When I think about how they were and handled things, it helps me deal with the fact that they are not here anymore.
Click here to read Joan Lunden Takes on Yet Another Role: Family Caregiver.
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