Four knee replacement surgeries didn’t slow down this senior athlete
74-year-old Kathy Meares has racked up multiple medals in the National Senior Games
After her fourth knee replacement surgery in 1995, Kathy Meares’ doctor told her that she needed to stop running. Determined to stay active, she started walking instead.
Sports were a huge part of Meares’ daily life, and she couldn’t imagine giving them up. She looked forward to daily 4-to-5-mile runs around the lake near where she lives and didn’t want to let them go. “I used to love to run, and it really was pretty devastating. But I thought, I can either sit here and whine about how I can’t do it, or I’m gonna get out there and get started and work my way up to what I need to be doing.”
Starting off slow, she began daily walks around the lake. Little by little, she increased her speed as well as her distance. Soon, Meares was jogging and covering enough distance for more than a half-marathon and even completed the Louisiana Half Marathon. She may not have been running at full speed anymore, but she was certainly still an athlete.
Although she loved competing, Meares also realized that she needed to be careful about going too far or too fast in order to prevent her knees from acting up. That’s when she found out about the perfect compromise: the power walking event at the National Senior Games, sponsored by Humana.
“I didn’t even know what a power walk was,” Meares said with a laugh.
She enthusiastically signed up, and decided that she wasn’t going to go too fast because she didn’t want to hurt her knees. Even so, she noticed that she was passing a lot of people. But she didn’t think much of it until she crossed the finish line.
Meares could barely believe that she had won, so she skeptically asked the woman waiting to meet competitors at the finish line if the race was over. The woman assured her that not only did she finish, she had won gold.
“It was totally amazing. I never felt so exhilarated and so humble at the same time,” Meares said. “That was the first time I’d ever done [a power walking competition], and I got a gold medal the first time I ever did it. Every time I think about it, I just get chills because it was so overwhelming. It was just incredible.”
Meares wasn’t the only one thrilled by her victory. Her family was too, as no one knew better how hard she works to stay in shape and find balance between fitness and the need to avoid straining her knees.
“My daughter and our two grandkids were at the games, and they were sitting in the bleachers. I could hear them every time I went around. They were hollering, ‘Go, Gammy!’ That helped me keep pushing on,” she said.
Although she was thrilled to win a medal, Meares stressed that all she ever expects of herself is to do her best. For her, the biggest benefits of exercising are the mental and physical boosts that she gets whether she’s competing, walking around the lake, or exercising with a group of friends from the Humana SilverSneakers group of which she’s a member.
“I get my heart rate up. It encourages my breathing. It just makes my whole body feel good. If I have to miss a day, I’m really dragging,” Meares said.
In honor of Meares’ story of overcoming adversity and her positive attitude, Humana named her a “Game Changer,” a distinction reserved for people who inspire others to stay healthy and active.
Meares has embraced the honor wholeheartedly and does all that she can to encourage people of all ages to do their best to stay in shape, even if they don’t think of themselves as athletes or want to compete.
“You just got to believe in yourself, you got to believe this is a worthwhile experience,” Meares said. “And you just have to go forward.”
To learn more about how Humana empowers senior athletes through the National Senior Games, visit nsga.com.
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