She was a heavy smoking, alcoholic, obese woman who reached her first breaking point 40 years ago. After DeEtte Sauer’s friend drank himself to death, she woke up to her own alcohol dependency. She resolved to stop drinking, joined Alcoholics Anonymous and stuck with that. She went on to quit smoking, which she found extremely difficult, but she persevered. She had never had any discipline around food and her doctors in Texas at the time just seemed to accept that people got fat as the years passed. No one told her to lose weight, other than her husband.
After giving up her addictions to smoking and alcohol, food addiction took their place. Her obesity grew before she reached another breaking point. She was on vacation in 1986 when she found that at over 250 pounds, she was too fat to get into a boat. That did it. Her husband was very upset with her weight, but she didn’t want to lose it for his sake. She went back to school and studied addiction. She began to understand why she was asking herself the question about her life: “Is that all there is?” She had never examined her life before that. She resolved to change everything. She got serious about her food intake and how she was living.
She took up walking. That helped. With radical changes in diet, she lost over 100 pounds in about nine months. She joined a fitness center and worked out there too, but it got a bit boring. Someone there mentioned that there was a master’s swim team forming. She showed up, and could not make it halfway across the pool. The coach offered to teach her. With consistent coaching and intention on her part, she got better and better. She came in second in her very first swim meet. She now swims every day, at least 3000 yards and competes regularly. DeEtte has been a repeat gold medal winner in her competitions at the National Senior Games for years now.
The Compulsive Trait
DeEtte has what some might call a compulsive personality, as do many who have addictions. She was compulsively successful at a high powered job. She was certainly compulsive in her past drinking, smoking and eating. But with time and clear intention, she converted that trait, the intense, repeated urge to do certain things, into her sport. At age 81, she is thriving, and currently training for her next swim competition coming up at the National Senior Games.
Regardless of the state she was in was in at mid-life, she radically transformed it into a totally healthy aging lifestyle. She has a strong sense of community with her fellow athletes, and her teaching swimming at the fitness center. She is active in her church and in socializing with friends. She is exceptionally careful about what she eats, cooking from scratch every day. In many ways she’s a model of taking one’s self from unhealthy to exceptionally fit and happy with the results.
What About The More Ordinary Person?
There is no question that DeEtte is exceptional. She went from extremes of substance dependency, smoking and overeating to the other extremes of self-discipline, learning, study, awareness and dedication to a sport she learned to love. Not everyone is wired that way. But everyone who is not healthy can certainly develop some new, even modest habits to get better.
DeEtte advises that it’s good to focus on something you enjoyed as a child and go toward that. For example if you liked riding your bike, get a bike, or a stationary bike and start with that. If you have no exercise program, walking is a great way to begin, as DeEtte did. Buy a good pair of walking shoes and do a little at a time.
- Be honest with yourself. If you say you just don’t feel like exercising, that’s an excuse. It doesn’t have to be something hard. Walking isn’t, unless you’re disabled. Then, you adapt and do what you can with what you’ve got.
- DeEtte’s message of examining your life and seeing what’s missing is well worth taking on. She can inspire you to really look and how you spend your time and change what you don’t find satisfactory.
- If you’d like to be more fit than you are now, and you find a person like DeEtte Sauer, age 81, inspiring, find your own way to an activity you can have fun doing and start today. That old saying is true (paraphrased): “the longest journey starts with a single step.”
If you are frustrated with the burden your aging loved one is putting on you with their health problems and other stresses you feel, get advice from our nurse-lawyer, geriatric psychologist team at AgingParents.com. Sign up for your 10 minute introductory call today by clicking here, or call us at 866-962-4464. You can get our free Quick Tips newsletter here. You may find answers there too!
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com