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Health & Fitness

Champions in spirit Former Olympian says staying active is about having the right attitude

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 01:07 AM

It's Friday afternoon at The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay, and the community life director is leading another set of games for dozens of senior residents.

She's seized on the Olympics as a theme for activities that provide a mental workout as well as some physical exercise. Residents vying for a medal take their turn at puzzles and trivia games, a ball toss and the putting green.

When she tells contestants they are champions for taking part, it comes from the heart — and experience. Nicole Haislett Bacher, 39, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, passionately believes that aging doesn't stop the competitive spirit.

"Wellness is not about how well you walk or see. … It's about tapping into all these parts of a person to make them feel valuable," she says.

Twenty years ago, Bacher stood on the medal stand at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Now, she's helping residents at the South Pasadena senior and assisted living community stay as active as possible — including residents such as Mabel Bates, 99, who says her secret to a long life is to "keep going and keep being cheerful."

Bates goes all in for the Olympic Games at The Fountains, though she now needs to use a wheelchair. She may not be able to accomplish all the tasks, "But I like to think I can," she says.

Bacher says attitude is essential to aging adults. It's dangerous to give up because your body doesn't move as fast or isn't as strong, she says.

Thelma Neely, 90, was a New York City Rockette in 1939 and spent decades as a professional dancer and teacher. Today, she still leads dance and water aerobics classes at The Fountains every day. And she can still kick her leg nearly as high as her head.

"I think I would die if I couldn't dance" she says. "I have to keep it up."

Bacher knows people such as Neely are the exception, and that it's a struggle to keep loved ones active as they grow older. She offers an idea for people trying to convince a friend to keep moving.

Do something fun; don't drag them into it kicking and screaming, she says.

"If you can get them to try, that's half the battle."


mshedden@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7365
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