At Their Peak

Meet Ruth Thompson, high-achieving senior athlete.

Ruth Thompson was not an athletic child, but competed in jump rope as a senior citizen and outpaced jumpers who were 15 years her junior. She rode a bike, always with a helmet, until age 92. When she switched to swimming backstroke, she found a new sport to tackle at the National Senior Games. Although she didn’t swim competitively until her 70s, she’s training for this year’s competition in Birmingham, Alabama. 

“You meet a great group of people at the Senior Games, you really do. I try to encourage as many people as I can to participate,” says Thompson. “I think it’s very good for an older person to take part in competition. Knowing you have a race means you’ll stick to your regimen. You’ve got to be ready.” 

Thompson, who once competed with a broken wrist set in a swim cast, is currently practicing twice a week at the Petersburg YMCA, to prepare for 50-, 100- and 200- yard racesin June. 

Being 96 requires adaptation but not defeat, she says. “To be that age and to feel good is wonderful. I can’t do what I used to do, but I can do something. Just make up your mind. You can always find an excuse not to, but that’s the easy way out. You have to stay active, you have to be involved. There’s a whole lot you can do to make someone’s life brighter.”

Thompson drives, lives independently, audits courses at Richard Bland Community College and plays piano at her church, managing all of her responsibilities with good humor. She worked for the courts until she turned 90. Above all, she says, “I love to have fun. I know I’m getting old, but I still can enjoy life. I can enjoy today.”

Fuel for Thought

Tips for senior athletes to keep nutrition on track from Richmond registered dietician Tina Shiver, IFMCP. 

Take in enough overall calories to support your activity. This means eating enough of the right combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat to support muscle repair and replace glycogen in your muscles for energy, but not too many calories, which could end up as stored fat. Example: A 65-year-old female, who is 5 feet 3 inches and weighs 115 pounds, would need at least 1,500 calories to support 45 minutes of walking a day.

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to support the antioxidant nutrient intake that your body needs for the immune system. This stops you from getting run down so quickly.
  • Balance is important. Take in all the food groups, which include carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. “Diets” may promote muscle wasting and this could lead to injury.
  • Follow a low inflammatory food plan, which includes minimal amounts of sugar and saturated fat. 
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