For the third year, Senior Planet from AARP put out the call for “Senior Planet Sponsored Athletes” — adults age 60 and older who are excited about fitness, have identified their wellness-related goals, and are willing to share their experiences to inspire other older adults. After reading some 50 incredible applications, a selection committee from Senior Planet selected five new older adult athletes. Their stories inspired us, and — we think — will inspire you:
It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Marathon…
“I didn’t start my fitness journey until I was in my 50s. At 60, I was diagnosed with a joint disease that has me fighting to stay active — but I do, and I love it!”
Evon “MsFAITH!” Bennett – Age 62
MsFAITH! (Mission-Specific, Fully Achieving Independence Through Health, Healing & Helping) — has ran/walked 34 half marathons in 24 states and 3 countries, and 8 full marathons including the original marathon in Athens Greece for her 60th birthday. Since the pandemic, MsFAITH! has organized small fitness accountability groups on Zoom and Facebook, including one for women 60+ using weighted hula hoops and dumbbells for strength training. She’s also a roller skater who’s combined roller skating and hula hooping. As a Senior Planet Sponsored Athlete, MsFAITH! plans to inspire and encourage seniors to get moving!
The Gospel of Pumping Iron
“My goal is to be able to convince more and more people that one does not have to be of the ‘physically elderly elite’ to have a formidable third age. But, No Vigor without Rigor.”
Keo Capestany – Age 85
Keo Capestany preaches “the gospel of pumping iron.” At age 85, Keo still aims to exercise six days each week: three for upper body and three for lower body, including three hours of walking on Saturdays. He believes he is a good role model because, he says, he is “a very ordinary old man” and what he does is “attainable by many, if not by all.” Keo started promoting senior fitness about 20 years ago after witnessing a subpar exercise class at a retirement home. Ever since, he has been teaching other older adults to avoid fragility. Being bilingual, Keo also wants to reach the growing population of Hispanic “mayores” who will benefit from his message of the feasibility of a lively third age.
Achieving (and Saving) Goals
“One major objective is to motivate my contemporaries to stay with their chosen physical activity — in order to stay mentally and psychologically strong, and to set their own examples for the folks they know.”
-Paul Gammarano, Sr.
Paul Gammarano, Sr. – Age 68
Ice hockey is a strenuous sport, requiring a combination of stamina, agility, balance, and a bit of courage. At age 68, Paul Gammarano is proving that hockey can also be considered a lifelong activity. Despite a diagnosis of prostate cancer and being successfully treated, there have been only three time periods when Paul’s thrice-weekly playing/skating regimen was interrupted: two decades to raise two children, an off-ice knee injury, and COVID-caused rink closures. Between his on-ice activity of playing competitively, and off-ice conditioning exercises — which include bicycling and AARP-led video floor exercises (with a few physical stretches of his own) — Paul hopes to inspire older adults to take up their own former favorite sports again, and set personal, attainable fitness goals.
Finding the Fun in Fitness
“My goal is to show those of us who are well-seasoned that we can still enjoy the spices of life by participating in fun, fitness activities! Life is what you make it… live it to its fullest!”
Carolyn Hartfield – Age 73
Carolyn Hartfield’s fitness journey started at age 50 when she joined a senior women’s organized basketball team to stay physically active as she aged. After moving from Michigan to Georgia in 2001, she was introduced to hiking and has been leading monthly group hikes since 2009. Carolyn is also a competitive racewalker, and loves the great outdoors. She is going into her fourth year of leading a weekly walking group (now virtually) on trails in local parks. Currently she is a National Senior Games Ambassador and on the planning committee for the Georgia Golden Olympics. In October 2021, Carolyn graduated as an America Walks Fellow. Carolyn says: “As we age, no matter our age, we are never too old to participate in activities that are fun, help keep us fit and allow us to meet friendly like-minded people.”
“I want to be a catalyst for other older adults to improve their health through physical activity. I see this as an opportunity to encourage others to participate in a sport or activity they can do for a lifetime.”
Sally Saenger – Age 66
Aquatics has always been Sally Saenger’s passion, and it continues to this day. Sally swims and does pool workouts on a regular basis, but her real passion is surfing. She started competing in her mid 40s, and her most recent competition was this past year in Malibu. “As a 66 year old avid female surfer, I know I am challenging the stereotype of aging.” Sally believes that maintaining strength, balance, and agility is important as we age, and that surfing challenges each of those aspects of fitness. She also teaches health and fitness classes for older adults part-time. Sally says this helps her stay in shape while sharing her knowledge about wellness, strength, and balance with her senior students.
How to Follow Along
Each Senior Planet Sponsored Athlete has an inspiring story and a unique perspective on fitness, and each uses technology to support their fitness routines. All year long, they’ll be inviting us into their lives, and sharing their challenges and successes by writing blog posts here on seniorplanet.org/athletes. They’ll also host virtual fitness events throughout the year that you can participate in.
Want to catch up on the stories from last year’s athletes? Click here! In need of a little motivation to get moving? Join our daily health and wellness programs, stay tuned to the latest news and articles from SeniorPlanet.org by signing up for The Orbit weekly newsletter, and follow us on social media (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) to get to know these awe-inspiring athletes. You might just find a new love for fitness along the way!