I was talking to my sister Pauly on the phone about what I’d been doing lately. I’d recently retired from a career in Physical Therapy, and she was curious about how I was spending my time. I explained to her that I was in transition. I had moved from being a health care provider to an advocate supporting and promoting the stories and bold ventures of active women over 50. I was meeting amazing women, collecting and sharing their stories through our company, Sistership. The narratives mostly centered around those who bucked the gender and age stereotype through physically daring adventures and inspirational challenges. I believed that by spreading these tales of women who chose to live life boldly, it could help inspire others to do the same. After all, it was pretty much the same thing I had been doing as a PT, but using stories to build connections to change behavior.
My sister listened to me intently. She seemed excited as I shared my enthusiasm for this new phase of my life. I rambled on for several minutes before finally coming up for air. In the brief pause, I offered, there was a short silence. Then she asked, almost timidly, “Jo, do you think my story is bold enough? I mean, do you think someone would connect with my life story?”
I gasped. Tears began to well up in my throat. Unlike other heroines I had written about, here was my sister’s untold story, so deeply woven into the fabric of our family, it almost seemed too ordinary. But it was far from that.
I was 14. I remember when my parents got the call from Harbor General Hospital. She was in their mental health ward, admitted with a diagnosis of “bipolar personality.” Unlike today, this disorder was virtually unheard-of in the ’70s. The hospital explained that Pauly had been picked up by the Los Angeles police for making a public disturbance at the LA Airport during a manic episode. She was impersonating Angela Davis, a controversial African-American political activist, and was protesting loudly in the terminal. This first incident turned out to be the beginning of decades of cyclic states of mania and depression.
Yet, today, against so many odds, she was celebrating. After a lifetime of heartaches, disappointments, spiritual renewal, self-acceptance, and love, Pauly had now come full circle. At 65, my sister had a bold story, and for the first time in her life, she found the strength and worthiness to want to share it.
Greetings from American Samoa. Enclosed is my legacy for your files. If my story can help one person, it would have been well worth it. When I came to live with you in 2001, you, little sister, were the wind beneath my wings. I never dreamed I could soar as high as I am now. Thank you for your encouragement in my life and all the support and love to this day. I love you always, Pauly
Testimony of Pauline Ann Gabbard
I was born in October 1954, in Japan, the daughter of a navy man. At the age of 21 in Oxnard, California, I was diagnosed with “bipolar illness,” otherwise known as “manic depression.” I was placed on lithium, considered the “miracle drug” for this diagnosis. I took seven pills a day for 30 years, was under the care of many psychiatrists, and was in and out of mental institutions. I had recurring mania attacks often.
Despite these events, I was able to have a 20-year career with the federal government. However, my federal career abruptly came to an end when I suffered a manic episode on the job. Fortunately for me and my health, I was immediately retired onto disability. At about the same time, I was also baptized in a Baptist Church at the age of 20. I became a Born-Again Christian.
My ethnic heritage is Samoan. My parents, both born and raised in American Samoa, had returned to their homeland in 1982 after raising their six children in Southern California. I joined them there in the late ’90s for a short time. I did not work, was very unhappy, and gradually gained over 300 pounds. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I moved back to California in 2001. I lived with my brother and sister in the Bay Area for a while until I finally got my own studio apartment in Fairfield, California. My surroundings were concrete with very little greenery, unlike the beautiful island I had just come from. I lived on my disability check with very little income for rent, food, and utilities. I ate one meal a day and at one point, had to go to the Salvation Army for food.
One day, I opened my front door, and there was a flyer inviting me to a local church. They provided transportation on Sundays, and so I called and started attending Christian Fellowship. I felt a sense of peace and found a few good Christian friends.
I lived in Fairfield, California, for two years and gradually missed my family in Samoa. I longed to go back to the islands. I was seeing psychiatrists and taking five different medications, ranging from anti-anxiety to sleeping pills. Once again, I became depressed, and this time contemplated suicide. But in February 2003, I received a phone call that my mother had died of congestive heart failure. My father sent me a plane ticket for the funeral. I knew I did not want to return to Fairfield, so my sister helped me move out of my apartment in one day. A few days later, I was on a plane to American Samoa.
I attended my mom’s funeral in March 2003 and never returned to the States. My parents owned a six-unit apartment building, and following my mom’s death, I moved into her room. During this time, I felt the need for God again in my life. I soon discovered an English-speaking church right down the street. The name of the church was Word of Life Christian Fellowship, and I have been attending this church for over 15 years now.
During my stay in the apartment, my sister, who lived next door, hired a Fijian woman, named Sala to do household chores and errands. Sala and I soon became best friends. She stopped attending her church and started going to mine with me. We both continue to go there today. It’s been 15 years.
Not only did Sala become my best friend, but she became my mentor and spiritual counselor. She prayed for me to get off my medications. I was under a doctor’s care, and over time, he cut my medications down to one small pill a night. This drug is Risperdal. I was no longer taking lithium.
When I joined the Word of Life Church in 2003, I begged God for healing from my bipolar illness and depression. I repented of my sins and rededicated my life to Jesus. He delivered me. I now go to my psychiatrist once a year to refill my Risperdal. Since the age of 17, I smoked cigarettes—one to two packs a day. Sala prayed for my deliverance from my long-time addiction. I also suffered from gout. This affected my ability to walk. Sala patiently helped me over the years to improve my diet, and I do not suffer from gout anymore. It’s been 10 years since I’ve had an attack. I gave up pork and fatty foods. In addition to my other ailments, I also suffered from sleep apnea and wore a mask to sleep for almost 20 years. I was very overweight, so this was no surprise. In January 2019, I was in the hospital for a leg injury for two weeks. I had left my mask at home. The incident caused me to lose a considerable amount of weight, and when I returned home, I didn’t use my mask anymore. I didn’t need it!
In October 2014, I became very sick. The “miracle drug” lithium that stabilized my moods for the past 30 years had damaged both of my kidneys. I was placed on dialysis. Immediately, after 43 years of smoking one to two packs a day, I quit – cold turkey. I was 60 years old.
It will be five years this October that I’ve been on dialysis. I go three times a week to the local hospital, and each treatment lasts four hours. Both my parents have died, and I’ve moved out of their apartment complex. I now live in a beautiful three-bedroom house with my caregiver and best friend, Sala.
When I started dialysis in 2014, I weighed 285 pounds. Today, I weigh 204 pounds and can’t wait to get under 200 pounds for the first time in over 20 years. Sala cooks for me, and we have a strict food routine. Since being on dialysis and with the help of Sala, I’ve gotten control of my health. I no longer suffer from depression and am on a healthy routine. I now wake up at 5:00 am, shower, get dressed each morning, and give thanks to our Heavenly Father for another day. Being on dialysis and seeing the same people three times a week has brought me out of my shell. I now look forward to seeing what has become my “dialysis family” every week. When I first moved here, I couldn’t get out of bed until noon. I always wanted to lose weight and stop smoking, but now that has become a reality.
Last year I embarked on a short exercise program while my sister, Johanna, was here. We went to the local swimming pool, and I started using a stationary bike at home. This has helped me lose some of my weight. I continue to use the bike and look forward to achieving my weight goal of 180 pounds.
This is my life story, and these are just some of the obstacles I’ve overcome. By the Grace of God, I will be 65 years old this year, and I have never been happier in my life!
** Pauly’s return to the water inspired her and Sala towards a healthier lifestyle over the next two years. Although she finally met her goal of getting below 200 pounds, the sequelae of medical problems associated with her bipolar illness took their final toll. On October 14th, eleven days after her 66th birthday, Pauly passed away peacefully in her sleep.
Walking is underrated, especially in North America. The average American adult walks an average of 4,474 steps each day. Canadians are not far ahead of that with 4,819 steps. Contrast that to the average resident of Hong Kong, whose total daily steps clock in at 6,880, nearly 30% more than those across a continent. There are many reasons for this gap, but regardless of why the difference exists – most people in America don’t walk enough.
So, when Rita Enders, a 60+ year old Canadian and now Palm Desert, California resident, sought some advice about improving her physical fitness from her Physician Assistant friend, Michelle – she was given just a few words of advice. “Don’t just walk Rita, walk every day, as if you’re late for the bus.”
“Don’t just walk Rita, walk every day, as if you’re late for the bus.”
“Hmmm,” Rita thought. “I’m a world traveler, cook, weaver, spinner, reader, photographer, and all things in between.” Could the solution to getting fit really be so simple?” So, in November 2017, Rita began to walk. No, this wasn’t just her ordinary and occasional stroll. She began to walk with a purpose. Daily and quickly, she imagined the pace of a young student late for school, and trying desperately to catch that bus. Along the way, she began to walk with her 70+ year-old friend, Charlotte. Four months later, sometime in the spring, the two women decided they needed a goal. Their confidence and enthusiasm for their newfound level of fitness was bursting, and as Rita put it, “I needed to do something outrageous.”
Why not? After all, the women were in their 60’s and 70’s, and both agreed, they should pick an audacious venue. One that really made a statement. It was not enough to take on the annual run/walk challenge 10K of their Palm Springs area neighborhood. No, they set their horizons further. Across the ocean further – all the way to England. “How about walk the coast to coast, across England, they asked each other? “Lots of people do it, thousands in fact.” Indeed, the duo thought, “We can do it too!””
The Wainwright Coast to Coast (C2C) Trail is a 192-miles journey from St. Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hoods Bay on the North Sea. It was conceived in 1972 by Albert Wainwright. Wainwright, an accountant, turned author, wrote a series of guidebooks on walking routes outlining the route. From the northwest English coastline, the routes meander east through rural villages, emerald pastures, ancient byways, rolling hills, and three contrasting national parks to the final destination along the North Sea shoreline. Since Wainwright’s writings, his books have lured thousands of walking enthusiasts from all walks of life, to undertake the challenge.
The Coast to Coast (C2C) Trail in England meanders 192-miles through rural villages, emerald pastures, ancient byways, rolling hills and three national parks.
On May 26, 2018, after six months of working diligently to catch that bus, Rita and her companion, Charlotte, found themselves in St. Bees at the start of their adventure. Following months of training and preparation, which included careful study of Henry Stedman’s Coast to Coast Path guide books, they set out on their pilgrimage. The trip was a series of surprises and challenges with moments of pride and temporary defeat, which Rita chronicled in her C2C Blog (freespiritwoman.com). At times the women walked solo, swallowing in the serenity and brilliance of the landscape. Other times they walked with like-minded strangers who colored their journey and inspired them.
On June 18, the pair finally dipped their boots into the North Sea. They had walked for 16 days – a trip that less than six months ago, neither would’ve dreamt possible. As for Rita, she’d set her goal, believed in herself, and in the end, she finally caught that damn bus. Guided by Wainwright’s words, “You were made to soar, to crash to the earth, then to rise and soar again.” Rita wasted no time. She was already looking for her next challenge.
*For more details about Rita and her Coast to Coast (C2C) Trip, visit her website at Freespiritwoman.com
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For 14 years, Jill Gass, owner of Revolution Coaching out of Solvang, California, has been putting on performance cycling camps for women with a staff of some of the most elite and decorated women cycling champions in the world. A competitive Master’s endurance cyclist, Jill has won National titles and set records in some of the most prestigious endurance-cycling races in the world – including the Race Across America (RAAM), Race Across the West (RAW) and the Hoo Doo 500. But her passion and genius lie in mentoring and coaching. From veteran elite racers to women entering cycling for the first time, Jill empowers them to meet and exceed their personal athletic goals, thereby promoting and elevating the sport of women’s cycling.
Jill Gass and partner Liz Inglese
Galvanized by the limited opportunities afforded herself and other female athletes before the passage of Title IX, Jill has created and promoted countless opportunities for other women to excel. In 2011 she established B4T9, a non-profit organization whose mission is to foster equality in cycling and get more women and girls of all ages on bikes. The name, a clever and personal acronym referring to “before Title Nine,” is in some ways, a call out for women from that era and younger generations, to unite behind a common cause of dismantling the barriers that still exist for women in cycling.
As a USA Cycling Licensed Level 1 coach with a background in Sports Medicine, Jill has trained and mentored all levels of athletes for over 25 years, including some of the best women cyclists in the country. In 2006 she started her coaching business, Revolution Coaching. Shortly afterward, along with the help of former mentees, collegiate and professional racers, athletes, and world-class coaches, she put on the inaugural Women’s Performance Cycling Camp. The camp, which Jill runs with her partner Liz Inglese, is now in its 14th year. It is designed to support the recreational rider and racer who’s interested in boosting their performance and personal cycling goals. Regardless of skill level, participants access and learn from elite and world-class cyclists and coaches during the week. Riders obtain individual instruction and specific training advice during and after various training rides – all designed to take their cycling to the next level. The prestigious staff, along with a small coach-to-rider ratio, makes this camp unique and highly respected in the cycling community.
The amazing line-up: Laura Van Gilder, Jill Gass, Liz Inglese and Katie Hall
This year’s camp held on November 06-10th, was an overwhelming success. Eighteen women cyclists converged from different parts of the country with diverse backgrounds and skill levels to experience and enjoy the five-day and four-night camp held in Solvang. The year’s line-up included guest coaches Laura Van Gilder, the current World Master Cyclocross Champion, and Boels Dolman professional Katie Hall, the 2018 Amgen Tour of California Women’s Champion and one of the world’s best female climbers
Featuring Laura Van Gilder, the winningest American woman in professional cycling and Katie Hall, one of the top climbers in the world.
Participants were treated like pro’s and received specific tips and instruction from the world-class coaching team. Cyclists rolled along vineyard-bordered farmland roads, sprinted in pace-line assisted groups, and climbed and descended the scenic vistas showcasing the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley. Evenings dinners gushed with enthusiasm and personal accomplishment as the group shared meals and connections at some of the best restaurants in the area. Also included in the camp was an entrance into the epic Figueroa Mountain Gran Fondo. Riders broke off into loose groups with some touring the valley, while others climbed 3000+ feet along the steep road to catch a glimpse at the summit of the stunning views of the region.
2019 Women’s Performance Cycling Camp
Sistership, provided support for the event. Sistership is an organization that supports and promotes the stories and bold ventures of active women who choose to “Age Proud, Grow Bold.”
2019 Race Across The West Ultra-Cycling
(L to R) Karin Wheeler and Sylvia Maas
Team In Our Prime, the 2-person female duo, comprised of Karin Weller, 57 and Suzy Maas, 56 completed the 2019 Race Across The West (RAW). The women left Oceanside, CA at noon on June 11. They alternately cycled west along the 928-mile route and rolled into Durango, Colorado on June 14. The team averaged 342 miles per day at a pace of 14.3 miles per hour. Their official time was 65 hours and 5 minutes. Just to put these numbers into perspective, at that pace, it’s like riding from Los Angeles to San Jose in 24 hours. That’s amazing! Not only that, but competing in the 50-59 age category, their age didn’t seem to slow them down in the least. In Our Prime, crossed the finish line 40 minutes ahead of their younger competitors, Team Workhorses, Molly Cripe Brit, and Sandy Taylor.
Jennifer Orr, 2019 RAW Overall Solo Champion
Jennifer Orr, 42, riding solo in the under 50 age category against four other female solo riders, turned in a super-star performance. Against the entire field of single riders, both men and women, she earned the prestigious title as the Overall Solo Champion of the race. Not realizing she was in the lead for most of the race, Jennifer beat the fastest of the male solo racers by nearly 3 ½ hours. Her time was 68 hours and 30 minutes. Without a partner to share the work and provide even a short reprieve from the grind, she trailed both two-person females teams by only 3 hours.
Jennifer, a Sports Physical Therapist, entered the race coming off a big win in the 6-12-24 World Time Trials in October 2018. She has set her sights on racing in the 2020 Race Across America (RAAM). This week’s RAW race was merely a qualifying warm-up for what’s to come for this champion ultra-endurance cyclist.
Race Across America (RAAM) – Starts Saturday, June 15
Team Serpentine Golden Girls (Photo Serpentine MySpace)
Speaking of the RAAM, the 3000-mile granddaddy of endurance cycling racing started this week. The solo racers started on June 11 and are currently traversing the country towards Annapolis, Maryland. The team RAAM riders will start their race Saturday, June 15, from Oceanside, California. Be on the look-out for all the competitors, but Sistership’s eye will be on Team Serpentine Golden Girls. This team is comprised of four females from the U.K. who are competing in the 70-79 age category. If you think you’re old after age 50, tune into this race and prepare for an attitude readjustment. These women ride for a cause – to defy the limits of age and to show the world what that looks. Follow the Golden Girls on the race tracker and be prepared to shave at least 20 years of your perception of “old.”
Click here to see live updates on the riders of the Race Across America.