Have you heard the saying “Big things often have small beginnings?”
That could be the theme for these three individuals who made changes to their lives – and reaped the rewards — when it would have been easier to stay the same.
Who knows? Maybe their stories will inspire you to take the first step toward a new adventure of your own.
Dance aerobics, step aerobics, restorative Pilates, tai chi — Dorothy McGovern is one of the most faithful members of the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana, attending exercise classes five days a week.
Not unusual, you say?
McGovern is 88 years old and had never taken a formal exercise class until a little more than four years ago when she joined the Y.
The mother of five children, she was widowed in December 2012 after spending a great deal of time devoted to caring for her husband.
“My oldest son said you cannot just stay home and go to church. You’ve got to get out of the house and do something else. I came and walked around and looked at it and paid for a year’s membership. I started coming three times a week. I first took the 9:15 fitness class. One of my children said that’s not enough. You need to go more than three days a week to one class.”
That led her to try different types of exercise – and occasionally amuse her family.
A friend invited her to try Ballet Booty, a combination of yoga, body sculpting and dance.
“My grandchildren thought that was the most bizarre thing their grandmother had ever done. Well, I did not get where I would be a dancing ballerina, but they did help us. They worked on balance. Of course, there were some young women in there who had been ballerinas and they could point their fingers with grace and get that leg straight up, but (my friend) and I struggled and it helped us both and it was lots of fun. I just enjoy the different classes that I take.”
But the exercise isn’t the only thing she enjoys.
“It’s my social connection. I have just met so many nice friends,” she said. “It got kind of contagious. I was having so much fun, I really looked forward to it and it did give me a purpose, not that I was depressed. I don’t think I was. But it gave me a purpose to get up every morning, eat my breakfast and get ready to go and I think that’s very important as you age to have direct contact with somebody face to face and talk and laugh.”
Misty Alexander, the Y’s wellness director, was there for McGovern’s first class.
“She was completely different in 2013 than she is now in 2017,” Alexander said. “Then, she was shy, reserved and kept to herself. Now, she welcomes new students, hangs out in the lobby and convinces members to try new things.
“I love seeing Mrs. McGovern in class. Stepping back, and looking at the big picture, I seriously can’t believe that she’s in her 80s. And I can’t believe how much she’s accomplished in the past four years. It just goes to show how we should never stop moving, learning and growing. And I love how these encounters in life allow me to be both teacher and student.”
Of course, McGovern rejects any suggestion that others might see her as an inspiration.
“I don’t feel that they do. I think they wonder what that old lady is doing up there. But I enjoy it and the main thing is for me not to fall, to work on my balance and a lot of that balance work is self confidence in your ability to do what you need to do. That’s what I try to do.
“If you’re happy with yourself and you’re reasonably heathy, you have a lot to thank the Lord for and that’s what I try to do every morning.”
When Sharon Jones was 38 years old, she was morbidly obese, prediabetic, dependent upon a CPAP machine to sleep and was often too tired to keep up with her active family.
Today, at 52, she’s strong, healthy and has a career as a fitness instructor known for her big grin, contagious laugh and encouraging attitude.
“Sharon is so positive,” said Ellen Kinsey, who takes a TRX class taught by Jones. “We all say it’s like having a therapy session in your class because she won’t really let you say anything bad about yourself. She’s just awesome. She’s always laughing and smiling.”
Jones explained how she progressed from one reality to another.
She said she had always been stocky — “I joke that my body type is ‘I’m a little teapot, short and stout,’ but not necessarily heavy.”
At almost 280 lbs., that was no longer the case, though.
It was time to make a change, but it was a family portrait, not her health, that jump-started her transformation.
“I saw the photo and I was like ‘that’s how the world sees me? Oh, my gosh!’ And that’s when it really hit me. Now, of course, this is after the CPAP, after the prediabetes and everything. But it was this photo that I could not put out anywhere … That’s what I look like? That was really it. That was my a-ha moment.”
Upon reflection, Jones realizes that she began to gain weight after the birth of her youngest child, who is autistic.
“Having to deal with it, but not feeling comfortable talking about it, it was so much easier to sort of power on and make food my friend. It really was my true friend of choice. And also not being able to work out. You have an autistic child, you can’t find a babysitter, all the different reasons and excuses we use. And I know part of it was punishing myself as well, because how could this have happened?”
Her transformation started with small steps – walking and portion control.
Stationed at Minot Air Force Base with her career military husband, she eventually took advantage of base fitness classes and, over a period of about two and a half years, dropped 125 lbs.
And when one of the fitness instructors left upon her husband’s transfer, the class looked to Jones to step up and lead.
She did, in a big way, taking advantage of every bit of instruction she could.
Now, she’s certified to teach water aerobics, spin, boot camp, Tabata, Silver Sneakers, TRX, Pilates, yoga and more.
Jones knows she still doesn’t look like the stereotypical fitness instructor and uses that to her advantage.
“I am of a certain age, I am not thin and tall, so I think I appear more approachable,” said Jones, who teaches fitness classes at the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana, Holy Angels Residential Facility and local gyms.
She remembers what it was like to enter a fitness class for the first time and those experiences influence her approach to teaching.
“Whenever somebody says, ‘well, I have not been active,’ I say, ‘please, believe me, whatever you are bringing in with you, been there, done that.’ Whatever their challenge is, I have been there. I’ve been tired. I’ve struggled with the food. I’ve tried to work through an injury. First time at the gym? All of those things, I have been through.”
Her advice to others who might be now where she was about 15 years ago?
“Do something. Just do it. And don’t try and do everything on the first day.
“One of the things I think is so important is your fit should not look like anybody else’s fit. I think we can agree on certain things that are markers for fitness, but your fitness shouldn’t look like anybody else’s fitness.”
Four years ago, 64-year-old Jack Pace ran his first race in blue jeans and running shoes he borrowed from his son-in-law.
Fast forward to present day and 68-year-old Pace has seven half marathons and the Mississippi River Marathon, as well as a bunch of shorter races, under his belt. On his calendar for October: the Boulder Backroads Marathon in Colorado.
It’s an evolution that neither Pace – an avid hunter and fisherman — nor his family and friends could have imagined.
“Half of the people said ‘wow, that’s great, that’s terrific.’ But a surprising number were like ‘why are you doing that? Are you crazy?’ They kind of want to put guilt trip on you because, ‘hey, you can’t hunt this Saturday because you’re going to a race’?”
But Pace said negative comments just made him more committed.
“One of my greatest things is if somebody tells me I can’t do something, that’s a sure sign I’m going to do it.”
Pace said his enjoyment of that first race led to entering others.
“I just started out casually running 5Ks, but I just had so much fun and the people and the energy and the enthusiasm … there’s very certain competition, but there’s also just a really friendly atmosphere. You’re always going to beat somebody and somebody is always going to beat you is kind of the way it goes. You try to do your personal best.
“At a point there, I started thinking half marathon. I don’t know why. It’s just a Pace thing. You run a 5K, you run several of them and do pretty good, you start thinking I believe I can do a half marathon. I got online and saw one called the Other Half Marathon in Moab, Utah. I just on a whim signed up for it. That’s the best motivator there is. Keep a race on the calendar and it will keep you going out every day.”
A month before the 2015 Moab half marathon, he tested himself at the Barksdale Air Force Base Half Marathon to make sure he could finish fast enough to avoid the sweep truck that picks up runners after the race time limit expires. “I just had a fear of going all the way to Moab and getting picked up by a sweep truck,” he said.
He made it and, a month later, he was running alongside the Colorado River and amidst the red rock canyonlands.
Pace was seeing another kind of red during the Hotter Than Hades Half Marathon in June of this year. At about mile 12, he looked across a field to the finish line, misplaced a foot on the uneven pavement, fell and hit his head.
“My head exploded,” he said. “I came to and this girl was saying ‘are you OK?’ I mean I slammed my head into the asphalt. I got up — you hit your head, you’re going to bleed –but I got up and finished and still did my personal best of 2:06.”
That mishap hasn’t dimmed his enjoyment of running.
“I like the competition and I like the feeling that it’s doing me good, physically and mentally. It’s a tremendous way to just clear your mind of daily nagging things.”
Pace’s advice to others who would like to take up running later in life is to start slow, invest in a couple of good training books and find a partner, if you can.
“If you haven’t been running, start out walking. If you can jog a little, jog a little today, jog a little further tomorrow. Keep track of what you’re doing. They need a running watch with a GPS because that tells you exact distance. Don’t overdo it. Don’t try to go too fast at first and don’t try to go too far. Then just constant, regular. Do three or four days a week. Keep up with what you’re doing. If you can, bump it on up. The good thing about running, you can get to whatever level you want to.”