Juanita Gonzalez, 82, Los Angeles, California
Juanita Gonzalez found a midlife love for running 28 years ago, awakening her competitive spirt and a goal to always win her age group. Since then, “Speedy G” has been rewarded with Gold Medals in 72 road races.
Ironically, it was a 2nd place finish at the 2015 National Senior Games that may be her proudest achievement, because it represents an unlikely comeback from a bad fall that would have sidelined many others her age.
Juanita says she was attracted to running because of chronic tardiness during her career as a Veteran’s Administration pharmacy technician, first at St. Catherine’s Hospital in East Chicago and later with the VA hospital in Northridge, California. “I was often late, so I would grab my coat and run to work. I also used to smoke early on, so I’d be coughing and wheezing when I got there.”
In 2012, her haste caught up with her. “My bus passed me by and I never wanted to be late anymore. So I ran to catch the bus and fell flat on my face so hard it gave me a concussion.” Juanita required ten stiches to her mouth and lost all ability to write, speak and walk normally, and she was told she would need years of therapy to recover. But Speedy G would have none of that talk.
“She is an inspiration to me and many of my friends, family and patients,” says her daughter Lisa Sanchez, who credits Juanita for instilling a love for sports that propelled her to be a college basketball and tennis star and honors with two hall of fame inductions. Lisa is Juanita’s coach and owns the Sanchez System wellness center offering acupuncture, herbal therapy, neuromuscular therapy, kinetic link training and functional mobility. Her expertise would play a key role in her mom’s recovery.
“After mom healed from her fall and regained the ability to walk and speak she was still left with a shaking left arm, neurological issues and an inability to write and walk,” Lisa recalls. “It took ten months to regain enough strength to begin exercising again, and just when her training was in full swing again she developed an insidious painful stomach bacteria. She also has spinal stenosis to deal with, but she made it all the way back!”
Lisa provided neuromuscular therapy and acupuncture treatments and got Juanita to practice Tai Chi to help her stretch and regain balance. This specialized treatment resulted in a return to running less than a year after the fall. Speedy G is convinced that her years of roadwork also prepared her body to bounce back so quickly after the accident, and her positive outlook carried her through the ordeal. “I love to run, so when I fell I wasn’t afraid. I immediately started thinking about when I could get running again.”
Juanita has two bits of advice for others after her fall and recovery. “Walking regularly is so important, and Tai Chi is the best thing for your balance. It really helped me.”
Having read about Senior Games in a magazine, Juanita challenged herself to qualify and win at National Senior Games. In addition to her special 2015 Silver Medal, she also earned a Bronze in the 2019 W80-84 5K Road Race in Albuquerque and has her heart set on winning Gold when she competes at the 2022 National Senior Games presented by Humana next May.
We won’t bet against Speedy G!