‘He Never Stops’: Inside Jimmy Carter's Surprisingly Active Life at 94 as He Recovers from Hip Surgery
"He told me many years ago that he wanted to die with his boots on, that he did not want to sit in a rocking chair," Carter's cousin previously told PEOPLE
“I stayed busy every year and I intend to stay busy as long as I’m physically and mentally able,” Carter told PEOPLE just after his 90th birthday, in 2014. “I feel a lot younger … I feel maybe 60, 70.”
Now 94 years old, Carter is the oldest living American president — and an active outdoorsman, teacher, traveler and volunteer. In fact, he was on his way to go turkey hunting when he sustained the fall that led to his surgery on Monday, according to a spokeswoman.
“President Carter said his main concern is that turkey season ends this week, and he has not reached his limit,” his spokeswoman said Monday. “He hopes the State of Georgia will allow him to rollover the unused limit to next year.”
Carter has a long-documented history of spending time outdoors, be it for his beloved turkey hunting or at his and wife Rosalynn’s annual Carter Work Project building homes for Habitat for Humanity.
Meanwhile, the Carters have been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity for the past 35 years and are planning to travel to Nashville to build homes in October.
“We do it all,” Carter told PEOPLE in 2014. “Except we generally don’t get on the roof. We did for a while … but they had a shooting in Miami when we were down there building houses and the Secret Service asked us not to do it anymore.”
Ever the handyman, Carter even built his four-poster bed as well as a pair of nightstands, a trunk and a jewelry chest for his wife.
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Carter credited his active lifestyle, daily exercise routine (including swimming and riding two and a half miles on his Trikke machine) and a healthy diet with his youthful energy.
And he isn’t above learning new things: Carter said in 2014 that he and Rosalynn took up downhill skiing in their late 50s and early 60s, and learned to love bird watching in 1988 after they climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“He never stops,” close friend and former White House adviser Gerald Rafshoon previously told PEOPLE. “He was 52 when he became president. He was 56 when he left the presidency, and I remember after the re-election loss he was planning his next stop and he wasn’t going to be inactive.”
Grandson Jason Carter agreed, telling PEOPLE in 2014, “They just wear out their staff. They keep one schedule and staff has to switch off in shifts because no one can keep up with them.”
In the decades after his one term as president, Carter criss-crossed the global as a humanitarian. In 2002, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development,” the Nobel committee said.
The committee specifically noted his work mediating peace between Egypt and Israel in 1978.
Even Carter’s setbacks, like a 2015 bout with cancer, are no match for the former politician.
“Don’t be sad for Jimmy,” Rafshoon told PEOPLE in August 2015 about Carter’s diagnosis. “Feel sorry for the doctor and the nurses who have to keep him from getting up and going to work.”
Cousin Betty Pope added then: “He told me many years ago that he wanted to die with his boots on, that he did not want to sit in a rocking chair and wait to die of pancreatic cancer like [his father, brother and two sisters]. You’ll see him out and about I’m sure.”
A prolific author, Carter published his most recent book, Faith: A Journey For All, in March 2018 and continues to teach Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.
He has dates listed for this coming Sunday as well as June 9 and 23, and July 7 and 21. The church’s website notes that he and Rosalynn stay after each class to pose for photos with visitors.
In his 2014 PEOPLE interview, Carter said he and his wife still read the Bible to each other every night in bed — but in Spanish, “just to practice our Spanish.”
• With reporting by SANDRA SOBIERAJ WESTFALL