Huff/Post 50 recently asked readers to submit nominations of people who've reinvented themselves for the better after age 50 as part of an initiative launched with the TODAY show called "50 Over 50." We were overwhelmed with submissions. Every day this week we will roll out 10 more nominees. Today we focus on "Health & Wellness."
A knee problem was the impetus for Fontella Buddin to switch careers. For most of her adult life, she worked as an executive secretary while doing some professional modeling and singing on the side. Until the day her knee popped. At the emergency room, she was told she had fractured her knee cap. Three weeks later, she had a total knee replacement. She was allowed to go back to work but while sitting at her desk, her knee swelled up “beyond anything I could imagine,” she said. Another surgery followed, but the limitations she experienced led to her going on disability.
That’s when she got a letter from the government saying she could go to school for retraining for free. And that‘s just what she did. At age 65, she attended the Michigan College of Beauty for esthetics training and later she became a therapeutic massage therapist. Last year, she moved to Arizona to attend the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts to become a Mind, Body, Wellness Practitioner with a specialty in holistic nutrition. By the end of this year, she will also have certificates in Hypnotherapy and Cranial Unwinding.
“I've always known there was a connection between health and nutrition. I've learned that most diseases can be prevented or relieved by eating a plant-based diet. Being able to teach this is an awesome gift. I am deeply humbled to be a chosen healer," she said.
But she has a broader message as well. “Age is nothing but a number. People don't stop moving because they get old. They get old because they stop moving. And learning.”
When Colleen Craig was 52, she was thrown from a horse and broke her back. The chief of sports medicine at Kaiser proclaimed her injury "the worst CT scan I’ve ever seen, and there was talk of lifetime paralysis. Months of grueling rehab gave her back the ability to walk, but sitting was a painful problem. Her life shrank, and she retreated into painkillers and sleeping medication, and the world became a dark, unhappy place, she said.
But on her 60th birthday, she said "enough!" She took the proverbial first step on her journey to a real recovery. She began walking in the hills. Within months, the walks turned to runs. And a competitive racer was born.
She regularly wins not just in her age group, but against much younger runners. Her back pain has lessened considerably, and she no longer needs any drugs. She is in training to increase her speed and endurance and no longer takes high blood pressure medication.
"We are simply never too old to follow our heart’s desires. I believe every day after 60 is a day of grace, and I embrace my age, and the many possibilities left to me."
The past 12 months have been a metamorphosis for Mark Fischer. He saw a photo of himself taken at his church’s annual retreat and didn’t like what he saw; he weighed in at almost 270 pounds. Then a few weeks later as he was getting fitted for a new suit, he was told his size was now a 50X-Long, with 44” waist pants and an 18” neck shirt. That was on a Saturday. On the very next Monday, he walked into the local Medifast weight loss clinic and signed up to get the weight off. He’s dropped more than 50 pounds, now works out five or six days a week and feels great. He’s also dropped four suit sizes.
The second thing that happened in the past year was that he was laid off from his job in sales. Instead of finding another one, he has entered the seminary to become an ordained pastor. He will graduate in 2017 from seminary school -- the same year his son will graduate from high school.
“I wanted to do something different with my remaining life, something that counted for something, something that would make the world a better place," he said.
Susan Ludwig has been a competitive swimmer for the past 20 or so years. She’s loved swimming since she was a child growing up on Long Island, N.Y. and is ready to jump in whenever she sees a pool.
But when a friend suggested she should try an open water swim, she had what she describes as a “Holy crap! Why not?” moment. This summer she was one of 700 swimmers -- many of them 20 to 30 years her junior -- who swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco.
The event was a “huge challenge,” she said, because she lives in the landlocked Midwest, with no way to train for the very choppy seas, very strong current, and extremely cold (56 degrees that day) water.
But she rocked it! Completing the swim was “life-changing” she said, adding that she loves when people read her blog (109daystoalcatraz.com) and tell her that she inspired them.
At the time she spoke to Huffington Post, she was training to swim 5.5 miles across the Great South Bay of Long Island. “Since I was a very young girl growing up on the South Shore of Long Island, I would stand at the end of my street and look across the bay, imagining how fantastic it would be to swim to Fire Island,” she said. She is one of 100 swimmers doing the Maggie Fischer Great South Bay Swim this year -- an event, she says, that “borders maybe on insanity.”
“I cannot tell you how unbelievable it is to set a very challenging physical goal, work toward achieving it, and then successfully completing it," she said.
In 1998, Patricia McGee, a Cook County Deputy Sheriff, was struck by a cab as she crossed the street. The cab sped off, leaving her on the ground. Her life changed -- and not for the better. Her knee was shattered badly and her doctors told her she would never walk again without assistance. They said that at best, she would always need a leg brace for support. The accident and the prognosis were debilitating; she spent most of her time laying around in bed. Unable to even walk for exercise, she gained more than 100 pounds.
But her determination kicked in. After five years of inactivity, she knew she had to get out in front of her situation. She learned to walk again and began to get herself back in shape. Now, with a weight loss of 76 pounds, she is back on the job. And yes, she walks without assistance and without her leg brace. In fact, the brace doesn’t fit anymore because of fitness. She still can't run, but she's working on it. She also works with underprivileged kids through her charity, (www.MondayNightWithTheKids.com) and credits that with keeping her focused.
But her bottom line -- and what she shares with her kids is this: “When someone tells me I can’t, I can.”
Sometimes, you start out in life doing all the right things but then lose your way. That’s what happened to Roger McVeigh, who was a recreational triathlete during the 1980s. But in the course of building up his career as an auditor, 80-hour work weeks, dining out for business and travel all took their toll on his health. He was a wealthy man monetarily, but overweight, a smoker and drank too much, he said. With no time for exercise, he topped the scales at 240 pounds and was downing medications for high cholesterol and triglycerides at age 47.
His 50th birthday in 2010 was his wakeup call. It served as a catalyst and he set out turn things around. He and his wife assembled a small group of friends, and began jogging together on Saturday mornings. They trained for and ran a half marathon, and the following year two full marathons together. The year he turned 50, McVeigh re-entered the world of triathlons, competing in the local Key West sprint triathlon. McVeigh quit smoking, seriously decreased his drinking and worked with a personal trainer and nutritionist to examine his diet and learn how to make healthier eating choices.
By 2012, McVeigh was a new man. He participated in more than a dozen competitive athletic events that year. He weighed in at 161 pounds. He completed two long-distance triathlons (half-iron distance), and then took on the ultimate endurance athletic challenge -- a full Ironman competition -- in Cozumel, Mexico. In 2013, he served on Diana Nyad’s support crew when she swam from Cuba to Key West, and he completed a solo swim around Key West (12 miles). He’s now training for the Ironman competition in Louisville.
At age 53 and retired, he now beats his triathlon times from when he competed in his 20s. Through a series of positive lifestyle changes, McVeigh lives the Ironman motto: “Anything is possible.”
When Marlene Roberts was only 24 years old, she was thrown from a roller coaster. She suffered spinal compression fractures, dislocated her right shoulder and incurred a severe concussion. “I never thought I’d walk again,” she said. But, after seven years of body casts, braces and multiple surgeries, she was back on her feet by the time she reached her early 30s.
Today, at age 65, Roberts is living proof that age really is nothing but a number. Friends say the triathlete, who is participating in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September, has the drive of an athlete half her age. Her weekly routine includes daily runs at 5:30 a.m., laps in the pool on weekends, and regular bike rides around her South Pasadena neighborhood.
In addition to her health, Roberts also had to overcome another hurdle before becoming a triathlete: a fear of the ocean. To do so, she educated herself about everything from tides to turtles. She signed up for the Santa Barbara Triathlon in 2010 with two goals: to finish the race and to overcome her fear of the ocean. She exceeded her goals by overcoming her fear and by placing fourth in her age group. Her participation in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon will start with a half-mile Pacific Ocean swim, an 18-mile bike ride, and end with a four-mile run through Zuma Beach. In total, she’s completed 13 triathlons since turning 50.
If that weren’t enough, she also raised four children and completed a doctorate in clinical psychology at the age of 55.
“A professor once told me that starting at the bottom of the ladder only means you will appreciate each step you take toward your goals. For all those who are turning 50 and fearing it a bit, I’d say embrace it and don’t be afraid,” she said. “There is richness in wisdom and of course it’s true that ‘with age comes wisdom’. Go for it. I’ll cheer you on!”
Most people recall Aug. 31, 1997, as the day Princess Diana died. Jan Shepherd remembers it for a different reason: it was the day she chose to live. At 50, she weighed 348 pounds and could barely walk to the end of the block. Filled with insecurities and lacking self-worth, she knew she could either stay in her old life and die or step into the unknown and give herself a chance to thrive. She lost more than 200 pounds, which she's kept off for 15 years now. "I really prepared to keep the weight off by changing the way I thought, reacted, and lived," she said.
But more than the weight, she also left behind the unexpressed hurts, sadness, disappointment and anger. And now, as a transformational coach,
she helps others move on. She says it's been a great joy to teach clients how to love themselves.
"The human spirit is resilient, and it is possible to reinvent yourself at any age," she said.
After her husband passed away suddenly two years ago, Elisabeth Smith decided to try something new: dancing. She now dances two hours a day, has won two competitions, placed in the top five in every competition she's been in and is headed to Buenos Aires and Monaco to compete this fall. She also has lost 15 pounds, looks younger than ever, and has totally risen like a phoenix from the ashes.
As Smith explained it, she's always loved dancing, but her husband was never that interested. "After he passed away, a friend and I went for a lesson on a whim. It stirred up that old spark in me and I started to dance more often, taking a few lessons a week," she said. "The dance community has been so warm and welcoming and it was really what I needed after my husband passed away."
Smith said she loves dancing because it allows her to express herself in a way she's never done before.
So what would she say to those who feel they're too old to reinvent themselves and try something new? "Life begins at 50. I'm finally at a place where my kids are grown and settled, my work life is behind me and I really have the freedom to explore what I'm passionate about: dancing," she said.
After working her way up the corporate ladder at the same company for over 25 years, Mignon Williams was devastated when she was asked to leave. Afterwards, she struggled to find direction after going through a number of jobs. “I became very unhappy as I went from job to job and wondered, ‘What the heck am I doing with my life?’” she said.
Upon her yoga teacher daughter’s urging, Williams decided to head back to the yoga studio, to rediscover the relaxing practice she had enjoyed on and off for many years, before she entered “the corporate grind.”
Williams was hesitant to take up any exercise, as she had chronic arthritis and COPD. But, to her amazement, the yoga not only helped relieve stress, it also helped her avoid a lung transplant.
Today, with her oxygen tank in tow, Williams is a certified yoga instructor, teaching at a YMCA in Florida. “I didn’t think I was going to be capable of doing it at my age and health,” she said. “Aging is a state of mind. Don’t let it be a state of being.”
She’s enjoying her slower pace of life and said she’s feeling more fulfilled than ever. “It has changed my outlook … when you’re in corporate life, it's all about ego," she said. "My ego has become a second and third class citizen in my life.”