By the Numbers – Jane Kaiser, 65, St. Louis, Missouri
Jane Kaiser may not be the most gifted senior athlete, but she just might be the healthiest. It seems fitting that a native of St. Louis would be the poster child for our motto to “Be Your Personal Best.” After all, the Gateway City is the birthplace of the National Senior Games. And Jane, who was selected to carry the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Torch in her hometown, has gathered her share of medals and ribbons in local, state and national competition, primarily in swimming and track and field. She has enjoyed everything the Senior Games Movement has to offer in fun, fellowship and fitness.
It would be hard to find a better example of the benefits one can derive from maintaining a balance of proper exercise, nutrition and preventative health practices throughout life. A key factor is that Jane is a nurse who practices what she preaches, having seen her own parents suffer from a sedentary lifestyle and vowing to find a better way for herself. After witnessing the consequences of poor health choices as a surgical intensive care unit nurse for 15 years, she became a nursing instructor with a goal to influence her students to go beyond caring for the sick to encourage wellness and preventive care.
After a hiatus to take on fulltime duties of scout leader and sports mom to her four children, Jane joined the Visiting Nurse Association in 2006 and continues to conduct “point of care” wellness clinics at area businesses. She enjoys explaining what the biometric numbers mean and empowering people to take charge of their own health. She has also been active giving talks on a variety of health topics through OASIS programs, as a presenter at the YMCA’s annual Women’s Wellness Weekend, and sharing emergency preparedness talks to groups through the St. Louis County Department of Health Medical Reserve Corps. She has also done volunteer work with the St. Louis Sports Commission.
Jane Kaiser counts her blessings for taking the path she chose, and knows that she is a role model with practical wisdom to share with others. Being a senior athlete is another way for her to teach by example and motivate others to reap the same health benefits through regular activity. She’s also having a ball doing it.
Everyone says you have always been the model of health. You’re 65 right?
Yes I’m 65 (Pause) Thank you very much for asking. (Laugh)
Well, it’s just a number. And you will never find a group of people more proud to say their age than senior athletes.
It depends. (Laugh) 50 was a hard one to turn over. I just decided to take hold of it and enjoy it. I realized I could be in Senior Games and go play and have fun. I was going to get to do things I’ve always wanted to do all along, and that became a good reason to turn 50 and do more things to stay in shape.
1999 was the first year I could compete and I went through the entire brochure to see what I’d like to do. I selected track and field and swimming first. That’s what I do at the National Senior Games. I had never ever thrown a javelin or shot put or discus. I just watched what the other ladies did and tried it. I wasn’t too bad at it, but I don’t have really big shoulders like most of the others. If I just get it out there and keep my numbers I’m OK. (Chuckles)
Between 50 and 60 I tried all of the sports at the St. Charles, St. Louis and Missouri State Senior Games. Part of the reason is that I wanted to meet the different groups of people that did those individual sports, and to understand the sports better. That was a lot of fun. At the National Senior Games it keeps me hopping just to do my two sports.
Have you played sports all of your life?
I played multiple varsity sports at the high school and college level. After college I got married and had four children in six years. I worked until the fourth child came and there was too much to do at home, so I took some time off from my nursing career. I was pretty busy with Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts. I was a leader with my girls. I was always the one with the First Aid kit on camping trips. And I was the sports mom watching my kids play a lot of sports. But periodically there were opportunities that arose and I jumped on them. I did play on a coed softball team and some volleyball with other women.
So what has motivated you to pursue a lifetime of health and fitness?
It was a combination of things. I had parents who were overweight and had high blood pressure. Both had heart attacks by the time they were my age now. There was no way I wanted to go down that road. I think a lot of us now look back and say, “Wow, my parents weren’t very active when they were the age I am now.” And they weren’t, they were sedentary. That’s what they probably thought they were supposed to be at that age.
In nursing school they tell you to eat well and exercise, and I thought, “Well, I can do that.” In my first nursing assignment I worked in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit and I was seeing all of these patients who were really, really sick and I thought “I don’t want it to happen to me. This isn’t any fun.” So I decided to be as healthy as I can. My husband and I both take no medication, and that’s unusual for 65 year olds. I attribute it to the fact that we eat healthy and exercise. It’s been working so far, and I’m thrilled. (Laughs)
But it does come down to keeping yourself going. Get out there and exercise today, or you will likely go down the other path. Believe me, you don’t want to go down that other path.
Clearly, you have a passion for your profession and for advocating for others to be healthy.
I’ve really found my home doing wellness clinics. We go out with our equipment to various businesses-some big, some little- and we take a little drop of blood and do employees’ measurements to determine blood pressure, blood sugar, BMI, and cholesterol levels. Point of care is what it’s called, and it has a lot of advantages – we can give results and the consultation almost immediately and the employee doesn’t have to leave work and can get checked out on company time.
I love getting people excited about becoming healthier. I tell them the doctor isn’t the only person who should be taking care of them, they should be taking care of themselves and paying attention to what’s going on in their own bodies, what foods they put in their bodies. Nutrition is important for health. The Food Pyramid is out and the My Plate is in. I tell them they shouldn’t be eating themselves to death and to look at food as their best medicine.
Then I get into the physical activity. I promote the use of a pedometer. That gives them a way to start with an actual number, and then they can work their way up gradually. Everyone needs a baseline for all of these aspects of health. Don’t go out and collapse on the track. Add 500 steps and see how you feel. It might take you six months to get yourself up and going the way you should be.
You know, whenever you’re going through a change, it takes 21 to 30 days before your mind and your body even acknowledges that you’ve made a change. If you haven’t walked three times a week for three or four weeks your body doesn’t know that’s the new norm. And you have to exercise for the rest of your life, not just for three weeks. Whatever you do to take care of your body, keep doing it.
So in your view it’s a numbers game to maintain health?
A lot of doctors will simply tell patients “your numbers are fine.” Well, that’s not good enough anymore. You should know all of your actual numbers to plot how you are doing, if you’re getting better or worse. If your 4th grader come home and you asked how he did on his spelling test and he told you “My teacher said I did fine” that just wouldn’t fly. It’s your body and you should know as much about what’s going on as you can. Then you will know better what to do to improve.
To be fair, doctors do want people to try lifestyle changes first. We all want people to adjust their behavior. In my clinical work I deal with a lot of men between the ages of 25 and 40 who don’t think they need to see a doctor. Wrong! When we do their blood work and they find their cholesterol or their blood sugar is out of whack they start to realize they do have to take care of themselves at their young age. So when they do get older they can live a happy healthy life too.
It must be gratifying to be able to inform someone about an issue they might not have found if they haven’t had regular checks.
Exactly. A lot of them think their numbers are going to be fine and we’re going to pat them on the back. A lot of times we do, but often we find something they need to know. And if you want to raise your HDL (the good cholesterol) the best way to do that is through activity. I specifically tell them they need to get going, start walking. I ask if they participated in sports in high school and about half say yes. Man, that’s my cue. (Laughs) I’ll then say “You know what? The Senior Olympics here in St. Louis has the same sport – I’ll bet you’d have a really good time doing that again.” I just blend it right in.
I don’t know how many take me up on it. Because of the HIPAA law I cannot have any later contact with the clients I work with in clinics. But at least I am giving them the information and maybe some are getting involved.
You certainly offer proof that it works by your example. So personally, is Senior Games a fun thing or is it a competition thing?
Both. The goal when I go to Nationals is to get a medal. I’ve won one Silver and three Bronze medals over the years, but I usually come away with several ribbons, which means I came in between fourth place and eighth place. I do get a lot of fourth place ribbons, and I must admit that’s hard to handle. But maybe those other guys just worked at it more and deserved to win. Do not get me wrong, there is not a competitor at the National Senior Olympic Games that does not have an ache or pain somewhere, me included. I’m not retired so I don’t get to practice as much as I’d like to, especially with all the different sports I like to do. It’s a motivation though. Let’s just see how I do the next time.
It’s a lot of fun too. I see the same ladies coming back each time and we enjoy catching up on what’s happened since we last saw each other. Plus it’s a mini vacation every two years. My husband and I get to go see different places and do things we wouldn’t do otherwise. We map it all out and when I’m finished with my competition we do the tourist thing. We took an Alaskan cruise after we went to San Francisco for the games in 2009.
But maybe most importantly, it keeps me active the rest of the year. I think “Oh I better keep swimming all year long or I’ll be slower at the next games.” So I swim twice a week and doing whatever other physical activity I can come up with. Cross training keeps the fun in it too.
What’s fun is to take my grandchildren up to the high school track and show them the sand pit and tell them what I do. They’re very young but think it’s really cool. They play in the sand pit while I run around the track. Those little things can make a big impression.
So you take that Missouri “Show Me” attitude literally.
Yes I do! Sometimes I take one of my medals to my talks and tell people “Look, if you get involved you might be able to show one of these to your grandchildren.” You got to get that hook in them to pull them in.