Imagine having multiple sclerosis and being in a wheelchair for 25 years. That was Eleanor, in Tennessee, feeling trapped. When her neurologist told her she would never improve, she refused to accept this pronouncement. She had a quality of defiance. Her thought: “Don’t tell me I can’t do something. I’m going to prove you wrong”. And she set out to do just that.
She joined a fitness center. Think of a person with two leg braces getting out of her wheelchair and attempting to walk on an indoor track with a walker. That was what Eleanor tried. She managed to go a quarter mile, once around a track. She felt encouraged and determined and kept it up. She progressed from the walker to two canes. Then she got stronger and was only using one cane. She tried running with a cane, a feat in itself. Eventually, she was able to run without it. She’s been running ever since.
Eleanor was never an athlete in her life before this. Now, at age 87, she participates in the National Senior Games. That started in 2009. She has done running, long jumping, and power walking. Her longest achievement was a half marathon (13 miles), which she ran part and walked part without any assistive devices at all. Currently, she does track relays with other women in her age group.
87 year old Eleanor runs a race at Nat’l Senior Games
Her journey has not been without perils and injuries. She has had both knees replaced. She re-injured a knee and it had to be replaced again. Multiple surgeries required rest periods. She got too enthusiastic in returning to her fitness work and it re-aggravated her M.S. After that, just about anyone in her situation would have given up. Not Eleanor. She had to increase her medication and take breaks. More surgeries, rehab and back on the walker for a time. But she returned to the track and her fitness efforts, using machines at the fitness center more slowly and very carefully after learning her lessons about taking too much risk too fast.
She cleaned up her diet too and lost 35 pounds. She is low income and can’t afford anything fancy or eating out. She eats a sensible, healthy diet now, gets seven hours of sleep a night and manages her stresses mainly by getting outside and walking in the fresh air and enjoying nature, usually about 3 miles. She also talks stressful things over with friends and family. Some of those friends she would never have known but for her athletics participation. In all, Eleanor leads a healthy life, overcoming extensive obstacles to get there. “I’m healthier than any of my six kids” she says.
We hope her story inspires anyone who believes that disabling conditions mean you can’t exercise. She busts any such myth!
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com
If you are having troubles with a chronically ill, aging parent, and you feel overwhelmed, get help now! We’re a nurse-lawyer, psychologist team ready to consult and advise to relieve your stress. Call us for an appointment at 866-9624464 or contact us at AgingParents.com today
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