Never Too Late for Silent Sports
BY EVE GRAVES
Close to three years ago, a gal in the Trails 101 class I coach said, “My grandma would really love this class,” and that’s when I met 4-foot-11, 105-pound, energetic, bubbly 69-year-old Jean Yelle. No Excuses Adventure classes, Zilch to 5K, and Trails 101 are exclusively for beginners or those preferring to move at a slower pace. Jean pushes that limit to the max.
Prior to turning 69, Jean was not athletic at all. She merely walked for exercise and belonged to a gym in the 1990s, and that was the extent of her sporty endeavors. In fact, she was a closet smoker for many years and finally quit when she retired late in her sixth decade of life.
With her minute height, her maximum weight was 130 pounds. She always considered herself a pretty healthy eater due to higher cholesterol concerns.
Upon turning 69 and retiring, Jean said she finally had the time and motivation to exercise after sitting at desk jobs for the past 50 years. Her introduction to exercise began when she joined a health club in January of 2017, shortly after retirement. Jean says she tries to get to the gym every day and was there 317 times in 2018, and 328 in 2019. She tries to do something active seven days a week.
“In winter,” Jean said, “I go to the gym then stop and ski on the way home since I am so close to the Piedmont ski trail. During summer, I walk or run with Eve’s group two-to-four days a week and go to the gym as much as possible. At the gym, I start with 30 to 60 minutes of cardio. The cardio varies from straight running to run/walk intervals, stair climber, or the Lateral X. After that, I either work on legs using machines or shoulders/arms with machines and free weights. I end each session with a core workout, stretching and balance work.”
I can tell you this senior stud can out-plank anyone and everyone I’ve ever put her next to. She also found an active boyfriend her age at the gym and they are still together!
The thought, My grandma would like this! started Jean’s running “career” at age 69. She joined my Trails 101 class, which visits two non-technical trails during the week, and a technical trail on weekends. Starting to run was something she considered a challenge, and her family encouraged her to do it. Jean also said, “After I broke my hip downhill skiing, the ortho said I would have problems with balance and walking on uneven ground as I grew older. My thought was ‘watch me.’ It was like he raised a red flag in front of me!”
The first race she did was the Brule five-miler trail race, at After Hours, a month after she started running. She talked the entire time and finished in an hour and 10 minutes. Two years later, at age 71, she set a personal record, finishing four minutes faster at the same event, dominating her age group.
Since that time, she has run at least a dozen more races, from a one-mile to just over a 10K. Jean says her favorite race is The Harder Than Heck 10K, which is on the Superior Hiking Trail in Duluth, Minnesota. She said she enjoys the challenge. Her second favorite race is the Rivet Run at Pattison State Park, which is also a trail event. The Morgan Park 5K is her favorite road race, and she is always the first finisher in my Zilch to 5K group, beating those decades younger than her!
Watching Jean rack up the awards is just a treat, too! So far, her collection includes at least four of them. She earned two rivets from the Rivet Run/Walk, and those were won as she had stiff competition. She was first in her age group at Brule, Bangin’ in the Brush, and the HHH 10K, too, being the only one in her age category, yet beating out many younger folks.
Bangin’ in the Brush is another gnarly trail race in our area, and she tackled that 6.6-mile challenge at 70, winning a nice bag of cookies as a prize.
Jean’s favorite saying is, “The older you get, the longer it takes to warm up, so by the time I have finished a 5K, I’m all warmed up and ready to go!” Heck, I think she is always ready to go.
Successful trail runners are very agile, and most golden-agers tend to lose that ability as they age. Jean, however, is like a deer on those super technical trails. I have seen her fall a couple of times, but she just does a push-up and gets right back up again. Weather doesn’t scare her either. She’s the first to say “yes” when it’s pouring rain or a blizzard out there!
Being up for any challenge meant that Jean, age 70 then, said yes right away to learning how to Nordic ski. I started her, as I do everyone, on ridiculously short skis for success, and she has since upgraded twice to longer, faster skis.
Now, age 72, Jean is learning how to skate ski, and doing pretty darn well.
When asked why she wanted to start skiing, she replied, “I love being outside in the winter and since our winters are long, I needed something to do besides clearing snow.” Skiing is Jean’s favorite activity because she likes to be outside in the winter and is not a fan of warm weather.
Many senior citizens are petrified to be out in the woods alone, especially when new to an activity. Jean says, “I like to ski alone and carry my equipment so that I can ski when the mood hits me. I find it challenging to go as fast as I can and enjoy the quiet and alone time in the woods.”
In addition, she says, “When I ski two loops around Piedmont, it is 4.4 miles which is perfect. I’m working on increasing my speed and can do two loops in a little over an hour.” She said she is planning to raise that to three loops now that she has even longer skis.
Coaching beginners, people getting back into it, or those who need to be enticed into movement are the type I typically train. Jean, however, is completely self-motivated. She says she is trying to beat her family health history of chronic heart failure, and get the best out of life by staying fit. She loves being strong, active, and independent.
Not only is she independent, her petite frame regularly helps lift things for me since I’m limited. Jean also drives people to places in times of snowfall, because she enjoys treacherous driving conditions.
Where she gets this sparkly spunk is beyond me. It definitely isn’t genetic as her family is lacking her Energizer-Bunny attitude and athleticism.
Coordination takes at least a few attempts when learning new things. A straight-line, one-task movement is easy. However, throw in a sideways action and more than one movement, and it becomes a challenge. But even that is quickly overcome by this tiny dynamo.
Jean says, “I am pretty clutzy, but I think exercise and balance work has helped tremendously. As a side note, I broke my arm when I was 10 skating, broke my tailbone when I was 40 classic skiing, my hip and pelvis at 52 downhill skiing. So far (knock on wood) this stage of my life has been working for me. I am fortunate to not have aches and pains, nor have I injured any body part with my new ventures. I intend to keep on moving as long as I am physically able.”
Naps are a waste of time and life, according to the always-smiley Jean. My goal with her is to wear her out, make her sore, and, so far, I’m still working on it!