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2015 National Senior Games: Humana Game Changers make every day count

By Ellen Nason

man playing tennis
John Bates, 70, of Townsend, Tennessee, is competing in tennis with his wife, Janice Sullivan, 64, at the National Senior Games, presented by Humana, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He also competed in the triathlon. (Photo by Craig Lassig/Invision for Humana/AP Images)

John Bates collapsed while competing on a tennis court eight years ago. There was little hope for his survival. A chaplain was summoned to help comfort his wife when it appeared that emergency medical efforts were failing to jolt his heart into beating again.

With the help of EMS staff and doctors who happened to be competing next to him on the court at the 2007 National Senior Games, Bates beat the odds. In Minneapolis today, Bates, 70, and his wife, Janice Sullivan, 64, are celebrating a victory on the tennis court at the 2015 National Senior Games, sponsored by Humana.

Bates and Sullivan are also celebrating their journey to a happier, healthier life – and the gift of additional time to spend together. Bates, who has lost 45 pounds, attributes the positive change to more consistent exercise and a switch to a vegan diet when he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and doctors implanted a defibrillator in his chest. He had been active most of his life but had been lax in the years leading up to his diagnosis. His wake-up call eight years ago has motivated him to stay on a healthier path.

high five on tennis court
John Bates, 70, of Townsend, Tennessee, and his wife, Janice Sullivan, 64, won their tennis match July 8, 2015, at the National Senior Games, presented by Humana in Minneapolis, Minn. (Photo by Craig Lassig/Invision for Humana/AP Images)

Bates, of Townsend, Tennessee, was named a Humana Game Changer because of his commitment to well-being and to motivate others to make positive change. Who inspires him to take leaps forward in his own healthy goals? In addition to his wife, Bates said cancer survivor and triathlon silver-medal winner Karen Newman inspired him to compete in the triathlon earlier this week.

He said being on the tennis court, where he met his wife more than 30 years ago, provides an important social outlet for him and training for a triathlon offers a chance for solitude and meditation.

Bates is happy to tell people his story and show that you can remain active and happy even through physical adversity.

“People sometimes say that it’s not too late until you stop breathing,” said Bates, “but I say that sometimes it’s not too late even when you do stop breathing. It’s not over until it’s over.”

Hope Casias helped her team win on Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in Minneapolis, Minn. (Photo by Craig Lassig/Invision for Humana/AP Images)
Hope Casias helped her team win on Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in Minneapolis, Minn. (Photo by Craig Lassig/Invision for Humana/AP Images)

Esperanza “Hope” Casias
Hope Casias, 72, has been competing in volleyball at the National Senior Games since she turned 50. She played volleyball in high school and stayed active but gave up volleyball when she had children but never stopped loving the game. She was attending an exercise class at a local gym several years ago when she heard the slap of a volleyball on a nearby court. She picked up a stray ball and sent it back to a group playing during their lunch hour. They knew immediately that she had played before and asked her to join them. It reignited her passion to play.

Since that day, she has participated in all but two National Senior Games since 1999 and several World Games, winning gold and silver medals. While she loves competing in all of them, she said her favorite will always be her first because her whole family, including grandchildren, attended the games and played together at DisneyWorld in Orlando, where those Games were held.

“It was the most wonderful time,” she said.

Casias, a Humana Game Changer from San Antonio, Texas, has had some health setbacks, including a broken foot and a full knee replacement, but no hurdle is big enough to stop her from staying active and healthy and setting a positive example for others, particularly her children and grandchildren, who are with her this week in Minneapolis.

“We do healthy things as a family, like bike and swim,” said Casias. “We love good food, but we eat in moderation.”

She encourages others to do what they love but to stay active even if they believe it is too late to start.

“I tell people to start walking and build up,” she said. “That’s what I did. There is an old saying that anything worth something takes effort – and it does. But it pays off. Sometimes I have a headache but push myself to play, and once I get out on the court, the headache is gone. Being physically active helps you physically and mentally. It’s all good.”

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