Thousands of athletes from across the country are participating in the 2015 National Senior Games, presented by Humana. Many have stories that show incredible courage, resiliency, determination and a love of life. Many seem forever young and their faces show the pure joy of play as they cross the finish line, slap the wall at the end of the pool or hit the winning shot. All are champions and heroes to the family members, friends and spectators who watch their remarkable achievements.
Many of these heroes of health have traveled hundreds of miles to participate, but today we focus on some of the “hometown heroes” who live in the Minneapolis area.
John Levy, 72
John Levy, of Maplewood, Minnesota, was watching his grandson compete at a high school track meet in Colorado when his daughter, Melanie LaFrombois, asked him what was on his bucket list. His first thought was “that seems a little final,” but as he watched a participant in the meet throw a javelin, he told his daughter “I want to do that.” On Thursday, despite recent major surgery on his shoulder, he competed in the javelin competition at his first National Senior Games. His wife, children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors gathered to cheer him on.
The retired painter and Humana Game Changer said he changed his eating habits and began training when he returned from Colorado and made the decision to learn to throw the javelin. And even though he soon learned that he would have to have surgery on his shoulder, he was determined to stay on a healthier track and compete in the National Senior Games.
His determination and enthusiasm for a healthy change is having ripple effects. His daughter, who turns 50 next year, plans to join him in training for the next Games. She hasn’t decided which sport it will be but her mother, Carol, said she is determined to join her dad on his journey to better health.
Levy’s wife, Carol, is proud and supportive of his dream to compete. She said he has always made sacrifices for others and never had the chance to participate in sports growing up in Mississippi because he needed to earn money by working in the cotton fields. “It’s his time to shine,” said Carol Levy.
Levy didn’t win his competition Thursday, but he said he’s not done and will be back.
“Once I started to do this thing, it’s hard to go back and sit in the rocking chair,” he said, urging others to get up and get active. “I gave it my best shot and had fun doing it.”
Lindy Hensley, 51, and Sam Padfield, 90
Lindy Hensley, of Minneapolis, wore a T-shirt with the words “Sam Fan” as she competed in shuffleboard and table tennis Friday. Sam is her 90-year-old father, Sam Padfield, of Hot Springs, Arkansas, who has competed in the National Senior Games since 1987.
“He’s my idol,” said Hensley, who also competes in doubles table tennis with her husband. “He’s the only reason we’re in it. He has always inspired me to be active. When my brothers and I were children, he took us to the pool, tennis courts, golf… we did it all.”
“He has passed the baton of fitness,” said Hensley, who added that her dad has brought her and many others into the Games with his encouragement and inspiring example of health and well-being.
“What a neat deal,” Padfield said about his daughter joining him at the Games. Padfield, wearing a “Lindy’s Fan Club” T-shirt, is participating in tennis this week as he has since his sister first suggested it in 1987.
This mutual fan club is not new to the family. Padfield credits his long, healthy life to his parents, who encouraged participation in sports because it helped build good relationships and a competitive spirit throughout life.
What’s his secret to a long, happy, healthy life? Padfield encourages a well-rounded life that includes music, physical activity, a sense of humor and “using your brain.” He also credits the fact that he does not smoke or drink alcohol to his longevity and good health.
“I’ve also been very fortunate with my genes,” said Padfield. “I’m happy to have lived this long.”
Hensley points out that her dad’s positive attitude has also served him well and is another reason he is her hero.
“He has stayed positive – even during the rough times – and it all works out,” said Hensley. “I’m not sure whether happy, positive people are the ones who exercise or whether it is the other way around.”
Love of family has played a key role in the World War II veteran’s well-being. His face lights up when he talks about his three children, describing them as his “two lovely sons and my favorite daughter.” And even though he has accumulated a truckload of medals and ribbons during his years of competition, the memory of participating in the Games with his late sister and now with his daughter is what means the most to him.
His love of sports and his competitive spirit keeps the former teacher busy playing golf, tennis and participating in a dance club. He was at the first National Games and he plans to be at the 2017 National Games in Birmingham.
Pat Lillehei, 71
Pat Lillehei, whose daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2003, was asked to participate in a long-distance cycling fund-raiser in 2008. She wasn’t sure at first that she could go the distance, but was determined to do it for her daughter. She trained daily even though she was still working as a financial adviser and accomplished her goal.
The cycling journey also sparked an urge to continue to train, stretch her limits and compete. Lillehei competed in several swimming events and the triathlon at the 2015 National Senior Games this week, winning a ribbon in every event.
Lillehei, a Humana Game Changer, said being in the water has always helped reduce her stress and encourages others to find something they love and do it even though they may not believe they have the time or energy.
“We kind of set aside some of the things that we would love to do because we have responsibilities that we want to do also – but if it sounds like fun, it’s ok to say, yes! I will do that!”
She also encourages others to think about taking it to the next level and participate in competition because of the camaraderie and social benefits.
“I was inspired because of the people that came into my life as I was on this journey,” said Lillehei.