For the fourth 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:
Lifting Weights and Spirits
“I hope that I will get to engage with other older adults who are wanting to become healthier, and that my fitness journey can have a positive impact to help motivate them to start their own.”
Della Adams – Age 63
Almost 12 years ago, Della Adams was in a seriously dangerous situation with her health. After battling increasingly worsening diabetes for more than 15 years, weighing over 215 pounds at a height of 5’1”, and suffering with high cholesterol and arthritis, Della decided to make a drastic lifestyle adjustment. Through exercise and a nutritional overhaul, Della transformed her health; reversing her diabetes, getting her cholesterol to a healthy level, and completely getting rid of arthritis. Della now lives an active lifestyle and enjoys Olympic-style weightlifting, powerlifting, and running — finishing her first half marathon in 2018! As a Senior Planet Sponsored Athlete, Della hopes to have a positive impact on other older adults and help motivate them to start their own fitness journeys.
Having a Ball
“I have been blessed with good health and I think my continuous activity level has been a main reason for that. For anyone who has been wondering….‘What the heck is Pickleball?’ or ‘How do I get started?’, I would love to help them out.”
Rick Clendenen – Age 73
If you’ve heard about the growing sport of pickleball in recent years, but are curious to learn more, look no further than Rick Clendenen. After playing for the first time in May 2021, Rick fell in love with the game and became involved with a local club on Camano Island, Washington state. Today, in addition to being on the board of directors and head of the competition committee, Rick plays in tournaments and also spends time teaching the “newbies” — who are often age 60+! Rick finds that pickleball can be a fun and healthy activity for older adults who may not have great mobility, and his goal this year as a Sponsored Athlete is to share “the joy of pickleball” with the Senior Planet community. Rick’s motto is “Be your best, and have fun!”
Fighting Against Frailty
“I want to share my story with everyone that a diagnosis of osteoporosis does not mean one cannot stay active. Certain types of exercise can even stop progression and the need for medication.”
Kathleen Molloy – Age 73
Kathleen Molloy’s fitness journey kicked into high gear almost 13 years ago, when she was diagnosed with osteoporosis with risk for fracture in her lower spine. The news came as a surprise to Kathleen, as she often exercised and tried to keep a healthy diet. Inspired by her son, Kathleen joined a CrossFit gym and began working to improve her diet and sleep pattern. More recently, she also took up yoga for increased mobility and flexibility. Through years of hard work and determination, Kathleen has stopped the progression of osteoporosis and no longer needs weekly medication. Kathleen’s goal as a Sponsored Athlete is to show the Senior Planet community that any functional fitness program is very important to one’s physical and mental well-being. These programs typically help people get stronger and better at the everyday movements that life demands.
Walking the Walk
“There are so many easy activities we can take up: walking, chair exercises, dancing — really anything that keeps us moving and our hearts pumping so we can stay active longer.”
Gerry Smith – Age 75
Gerry Smith is an avid walker and strong health advocate for minority women, who are often underserved by the healthcare industry. Gerry became serious about her own health over five years ago when her doctor informed her that she was pre-diabetic. After learning that she would have to add another medication to those she was already taking for blood pressure and cholesterol, Gerry made a commitment to walking, and set a goal of 10,000 steps per day. After seeing major improvements after just three months of walking, Gerry was inspired to share her healthy habits with other women like herself. She is now the chairperson of the Physical and Mental Health committee for her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, providing opportunities for women to improve their health through better nutrition and exercise habits. As a Senior Planet Sponsored Athlete, Gerry wants to get older adults up and moving daily to keep their hearts going and live longer, more active lives.
Back On Track
“I want to provide as much encouragement as possible to my fellow seniors, especially those who aren’t yet fully committed to fitness. Being fit is like getting a new lease on life.”
Richard Westbrook – Age 70
Richard Westbrook discovered the joy of running later in life and hasn’t looked back! Richard competes in senior track meets, running sprints at 400m distances and under. He has won various local and state events, and placed as high as 4th in national meets for his age group. Despite his success, it took a drastic transformation to get “on track.” At age 58, Richard was 40 lbs. overweight, with physical ailments including high blood pressure, poor cholesterol levels, arthritic pains, neuralgia, and respiratory issues. His decision to join a gym and begin exercising regularly changed everything. Today, Richard says “I feel incredible! I am profoundly grateful to have the proverbial ‘second chance at life.’ ” His goal as a Sponsored Athlete is to take the help he has received on his own fitness journey and pay it forward.
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!
Sean Cruse is the Communications Manager at Senior Planet & OATS from AARP. He has worked in nonprofit and social good communications for almost 10 years. Sean is involved with all things Senior Planet communications, from email newsletters (sign up here!) to creative projects. He also co-leads the Senior Planet Sponsored Athlete program and loves helping our team of amazing senior athletes share their stories.