Shirley Radecki, 92, Eugene, Oregon
Winning two swimming medals in The National Senior Games is a remarkable achievement, but no one was more surprised to win them than Shirley Radecki, who struck gold and silver in her first appearance last year at the age of 90.
In a way it was very special, but it’s also just one more of many special moments she has enjoyed thanks to her daughter, Shaundele Leatherberry, who suggested they have “yearly adventures” involving physical activity and rustic settings to give them a challenge to look forward to. Some have also involved Shirley’s two sons and family members. After 22 years, the two can relate world travel tales of backpacking, riding motorcycles, scuba diving, and ocean swimming as typical activities. In recent years Shirley skydived at 80 and 85, climbed 14,000 feet up Mount Kilimanjaro at 89, and last year celebrated her 90th birthday by bungee jumping in a New Zealand gorge. Watch it here.
“I knew only 65% of people actually bungee jump once they are up there, but Mom didn’t look down and just walked out and jumped off,” Shaundele says. “The pressure was on me, because I knew she would jump.”
Shaundele, 68, says Shirley has always liked to stay active and modeled healthy practices for her children, saying “I remember how she did her Jack Lalanne exercises with the Glamour Stretcher and exercise ball every morning for years.” Shirley did not have the chance to play formal youth sports but learned to swim and kept it as a recreational activity. She also picked up golf as an adult and plays regularly. But in recent years she had difficulty finding active age peers, so her daughter had an idea to keep her mother engaged.
“Most others her age now just sit around playing cards and complaining about their prescriptions. There wasn’t anyone to do active stuff with around here,” Shaundele explains. “I got concerned and started encouraging her to do Senior Games. I wanted her to be around more active seniors and really have something to work toward.”
Shirley has no problem jumping out of planes, but still resisted the sports idea at first. “I’m not very competitive, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself.” But her daughter urged her to try, so mom got to work, finding a coach and practicing swimming and water aerobics weekly, and then successfully qualifying in the 2018 Oregon Senior Olympics.
The National Senior Games adventure impressed Shirley from the moment she saw the “WELCOME ATHLETES” sign at the Albuquerque airport full of enthusiastic people carrying their equipment and bags in. Finally feeling like an athlete, Shirley outdid herself in her second-ever swim meet and was rewarded with a Gold Medal in the 90-94 women’s 50-yard backstroke and a Silver Medal in the 100-yard backstroke, trading first place finishes with longtime swimmer Sara Sievert of Texas. “We were just a few seconds apart,” Radecki said. “She was pretty good competition. I hope to have more time to visit with her next time.”
Shirley also competed in the 100-yard breaststroke but was disqualified because she did not touch both hands on the wall or use proper leg form. The experience reinforced the need for regular practice for the future. Shaundele, who loves to play softball and swim, is now intrigued about joining Senior Games herself and not just be mom’s traveling companion next time.
The twice-widowed onetime flight attendant loves her adventures. The pandemic canceled this year’s Antarctica trip, but Costa Rica is next on their list. Shirley also plans to skydive again when she is 95. However, the simple things are still most important to her. “You know, it’s important to eat healthy, stay active and do what you do best. But having a good relationship with my family has been really special.”