De Shann Schinkel, 57, Rawlins, Wyoming
Many senior athletes have used “midlife crisis” to create midlife opportunities by starting or returning to competitive sports. After dealing with the difficult loss of both parents in her early 50’s, De Shann Schinkel got back into the game and could not have dreamed where it would take her in a few short years.
The Rawlins native is no stranger to sports, having been a multisport athlete and state champion swimmer in high school. During a 20-year Air Force career, she traveled and competed for four years with the Air Force women’s basketball team. She then served with the Wyoming National Guard while simultaneously coaching youth sports. “I fell in love with coaching when I coached a boys’ basketball team at Hill Air Force Base,” she recalls. “That led to me becoming a high school coach in 1993.”
When she turned 50, De Shann had big plans to get in shape and had two goals – to do an Ironman event and compete in Wyoming Senior Olympics. “I was busy coaching others, so my weight would yo-yo up and down. I was ready to compete again.”
Then life got in the way. Her father was diagnosed with COPD, and then within a month her mother was found to have inoperable stage four lung cancer. De Shann shelved her immediate plans to help care for her parents.
De Shann did work in some training during this time and cherishes how her mother would drive alongside and cheer her on during long bike rides and runs. After a year delay, she was delighted to complete the Ironman Texas in Houston and then win gold in 14 of her 16 events at the 2016 Wyoming Senior Olympics. She was also pleased to be competitive in swimming and triathlon at her first National Senior Games in Birmingham.
However, the eventual loss of both parents hit her hard after her father passed in 2017. “They were my best friends, and I wondered ‘Where do I go from here?’ I slipped off my training. I didn’t know how hard I was taking it and gained my weight back, and my liver, kidney, thyroid and cholesterol numbers were all high.”
That brought the reality check. De Shann decided it was time to retire from full time work as aquatics director for the county school system in 2018 to focus on her own goals. She retained a personal trainer for the first time and her son Kerry Ray provided advice as a registered dietitian. She also had encouragement from her siblings to help lift her out of the funk.
At the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana in Albuquerque, she competed in eight swimming events, earning gold medals in the 200-yard freestyle 200-yard medley relays. She also earned sixth place in the triathlon.
De Shann was surprised and humbled this year when she was named executive director for the Wyoming Senior Games. “I fell in love with everything about the Games in 2016,” she says. “The past president Bill Stone and everyone drew me in. I was hooked and there was no doubt I would continue with Senior Games for the rest of my life. To be running games in my home state is gratifying and personally motivating for me.”
De Shann now splits her time between Wyoming and San Antonio, where her partner is still in active military service. “It works out perfectly for me because I get to participate in both state games.”
“I’m in a better place now because of the Games,” she confidently concludes. “I don’t want to go back to those dark times, and I have the tools in my toolbox to do what De Shann needs to do.”