Food & Fitness After 50: Catch the Competitive Spirit

I have a group of friends who inspire me in many ways; in fact they have all been featured in this blog (posts on Lisa, Linda,and Jill can be found by clicking their name).

Competing on the World Stage

We always remember birthdays with group email happy birthday wishes, and for a day or two we play catch up with each other. This year, when we emailed Stella on her 55th birthday, she was surprisingly silent. Then, a few weeks later, she burst into our email inboxes apologizing for her delay by revealing that she had been in Terrasssa, Spain as a member of the USA Women’s Master Field Hockey World Cup Team. That caught us all by surprise and with delight. Not because she made the team; Stella is one of the most competitive, accomplished athletes we know, but because she kept it quiet. Stella has played field hockey since she was in the 9th grade and still plays on a fall and spring competitive league. When she tried out for the USA Masters National Team she was nervous, but thought there wouldn’t be many competing for the “0-55” (over 55 years of age) team. She was told to wear dark socks to identify herself as an 0-55, but when she showed up to the try-outs “most of the people had on dark socks!” She kept the try-outs quiet from her family and friends, and only her husband, Gary, was in the know. When she got the call that she made the team, she said the moment was “magical.”  For a year leading up to the World Cup there were many competitions played around the U.S. before heading to Spain. The women came in 6th in their division and were proud to represent the USA. “I will try out again in 2 years for the next World Cup Team,” says Stella with enthusiasm.

Yes, women can play any sport!

stella ice hockey
Stella on ice

But, everything she does is with enthusiasm. Field hockey isn’t her only sport. She also plays ice hockey. As the youngest of four in an Italian family, growing up involved in competitive sports of all kind, but there was no ice hockey for girls when she was growing up. She spent many years watching her brother play, and supporting the nearby home team, Philadelphia Flyers. When many years later she had the chance to join a woman’s team, she was all in.

Row, row, row your boat

Stella rowing
Crew team

After more than 20 years of running (of course she ran a marathon) and competed in triathlons, she fell in love with another sport…rowing. “Rowing is a beautiful sport and good for physical and mental health in so many ways.” She is such a devotee of the sport that she is often quoted in national publications extolling the benefits of rowing for all women, but especially for older women. In this story from the Washington Post she explains how the muscle movement in each pull helps to strengthen bones. She was also featured in this 2014 piece in Harper’s Bazaar on “why rowing is the new spinning.”

Stella cross fit competition
Cross Fit Competition

She starts each morning with CrossFit and a walk with Bear and Sasha, her German Shepherd dogs. (Stella and I have a special bond over our love of German Shepherds…when I called her for this interview her first question was “how is that handsome boy?” and I knew she meant my dog Samson, not my husband!) Did I mention she has a full-time job as Department Chair and Professor of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University? The obvious question I asked Stella, is “do you sleep?”  She admitted that she gets about 6 hours of sleep a night, but it is working on getting more sleep.

Stella with dogs and search and rescue trainer
With Sasha & Bear on search and rescue training

Getting older doesn’t have to mean getting old

Her tips for optimal aging?

  • “Do not stop moving, no matter the barriers, keep moving. Even if you can only do chair exercises, do something.” And, remember “aging is not a disease.”
  • “Eat well most of the time, but enjoy food and the pleasure of eating. I think the 80-20 rule is good for physical and mental health!” (80% of the time eat healthy foods, and 20% of the time eat foods that may not be as healthy.)
  • “Don’t be afraid to try something new with sports or activity. Keep variety in your
    stella students cheering
    Stella’s student cheering her on

    life.”

I’ll admit, I was tired and felt wimpy after talking to Stella, but she closed with these wise words, “I don’t know when God is going to take me from this earth, so enjoy life, eat and move well every day!”

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50.