Going for Gold: How Local Seniors Inspire Fitness at Any Age

By Tracy Wright

Proving you are never too old to excel in a sport, three local seniors recently medaled in the annual Gainesville Senior Games. Residents of the retirement community Oak Hammock, Ray Goldwire, 86, Bob Virnstein, 78, and Linda Cooney, 72, were successful in their quest for medals in their sports. Goldwire won Gold in men’s golf; Virnstein won silver in the 100-meter breaststroke; and Cooney won bronze in the women’s 1,500-meter race walk.

Goldwire says that he has made an effort to be active his whole life. Now retired for 20 years, he served as a Director of Human Resources in Toledo, Ohio, and his company was one of the first that championed workplace wellness. Goldwire served on a wellness national task force and spent much of his adult life running 10Ks and playing tennis and golf.

“I have always been interested in health and wellness and making sure I was physically fit,” Goldwire said. “I didn’t want to spend my latter years in a bed or a wheelchair.”

After he retired, Goldwire and his wife relocated to a golfing community in Lady Lake, Florida where he played golf often. A UF alumni, Goldwire and his wife decided to move to Oak Hammock in 2004. About 20 years ago, he medaled in the Senior Games in running, tennis and golf. After stepping away from golf a few years ago, he began playing again and decided to enter the games, where he won gold.

Goldwire is happy that he lives in Oak Hammock where physical and mental health is emphasized. A robust fitness center is staffed by UF personal trainers.

“Being in Oak Hammock means that I can continue to be physically active even at my age, which is very important to me,” Goldwire said.

Ray Goldwire

The Gainesville Senior Games is one of 13 sites around Florida that serves as a feeder into the State Senior Championships, held Dec. 4-12 in Fort Lauderdale. This is a qualifying event for the National Senior Games, also being held in Fort Lauderdale, May 10-23, 2022.

“We feel the Senior Games movement is an invaluable part of countless people’s lives across the country and are honored to be a part of it,” said Emily Grissom, events manager at the Gainesville Sports Commission, which hosts the games. “To be able to compete as a senior means that they are able to focus on their physical health and mental health, keeping them motivated and active. The Gainesville Senior Games allows seniors to compete in events that they love, or even want to try out, at an age where there is not a lot of opportunity to compete.”

The Senior Games provide a wonderful memory for all the participants who hold extreme pride in their physical prowess.

“We have many Senior Games participants that tell us their stories, and the most common one is being inspired by another participant to compete in the Gainesville Senior Games,” Grissom said. They have a friend or a neighbor that competes, see their medals that they won, hear their stories, and then want to join themselves. We have quite a few participants who have never tried any of the events until enrolling at our games.”

Linda Cooney

Events like the Senior Games prove it’s never too late to be physically active. Doctors strongly recommend that seniors continue to move in their later years and make it a part of their lifestyle. American Academy of Family Physicians points out the many benefits of regular exercise for seniors including improved strength, balance and energy, which can help prevent falls and boost independence. It can prevent or delay disease, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or osteoporosis. Exercise can also improve mental health and cognitive abilities.

The American Academy of Family Physicians outlines four different types of exercise that seniors should incorporate into their lifestyle each week—endurance (walking, running, swimming), strength (lifting weights and/or push ups), balance (tai chi) and flexibility (yoga or stretching exercises). They also recommend that seniors ages 65 and over should get at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week. Strength training is recommended at least two days per week, and balance and flexibility can be practiced every day.

An exercise program can be started at any age, but those over 50 should consider talking to their doctor before starting a program, says The American Academy of Family Physicians. They will assess your current health condition and give appropriate recommendations for starting a fitness program. Once you get the okay, make sure you have the proper tools. Comfortable clothing and good support sneakers should be worn. You need to both warm up prior to exercise and cool down after. Start slowly with some exercises you feel most comfortable doing, such as brisk walking or swimming and be sure you are hydrated before, during and after exercise.

If you begin to experience symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea while exercising, stop the activity and call your doctor to follow up. Fortunately, most healthy seniors can safely begin an exercise program that helps improve their physical and mental health.

Bob Virnstein

“The Gainesville Senior Games inspires seniors to continue to be active by creating a community and an event for them to look forward to and train for,” Grissom said. “All of our participants create relationships and bond with fellow competitors at the games. The National Senior Games are held every non-Olympic year and feature approximately 10,000+ senior athletes from all across the country. We have had a number of our athletes win medals on the national level, and we take pride in being associated with those amazing individuals.”

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