Grandma Helen Dugan Is Still Kicking As A Karate Instructor At 80

03/31/2015 11:25 am ET | Updated Mar 31, 2015

At 80, Helen Dugan could easily take down someone decades her junior. That's because the great-grandmother has been practicing karate for over 30 years.

"If you don't keep the body moving and don't keep the mind moving, you don't stand still. You go backwards," Dugan told The Huffington Post.

black belt senior

Dugan took up karate at 47 after enrolling two of her sons in classes and realizing she needed the exercise more than they did. Years later, she has a black belt and, in 1989, she opened her very own karate studio for children with special needs. Dugan says she herself has special needs, though she didn't realize it for the longest time. "I had problems growing up with bad coordination and some short-term memory loss," she said. She also suffers from face blindness, which makes it difficult for her to recognize people, even family and friends.

After a lifelong career as a school nurse, Dugan retired and opened up Champs Achievers in Lenexa, Kansas. The non-profit organization runs primarily on the support of volunteer instructors, many of whom are over 50. They teach karate to children and adults with a spectrum of disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and developmental delays.

It's a message she wants to send to people of all ages. "Keep it moving ... I don't let my brain get in the habit of quitting," she says, adding that she also does a daily crossword puzzle every morning to keep herself sharp.

Though she's in her ninth decade, Dugan says she plans to keep teaching karate whether she herself can practice or not, saying she'll be teaching even if she's in a wheelchair.

Keep kicking, Helen.

Earlier on HuffPost50:

Dancing Grandmas And Grandpas
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