Special to The Vista
No one can get away with telling Naiad Kuhlman of Fairfield Glade that age is a barrier to exercise.
The avid runner, personal trainer and instructor at Cumberland Medical Center’s Wellness Complex at Fairfield Glade won’t buy the excuse.
That’s because she is a walking – and running – example of how exercise improves health, no matter how old a person is when he or she begins.
Kuhlman, who is nearly 85 years old, recently brought home five track and field medals from the Tennessee Senior Olympics, held in June in Franklin.
She received medals for her times in the 50-meter and 100-meter races (setting records for her age bracket in those two events), as well as the 200-meter, 1500-meter and 5K events.
As a result she qualifies for the National Senior Olympic Games to be held in 2015.
Kuhlman’s fitness journey dates back to 2002 when she survived breast cancer and subsequently learned that exercise could be beneficial in preventing cancer recurrence.
“Prior to that time my only exercise was chasing after my four children when they were younger,” she says.
When Cumberland Medical Center opened the Wellness Complex at Fairfield Glade, Kuhlman joined, and she started working with a personal trainer at age 79.
Her first trainer was the one who got her in the mindset that regular exercise is important, Kuhlman says.
“He suggested that I might try running, in addition to the sessions I was doing at the Wellness Complex, but I wasn’t interested at first. I told him, ‘When I turn 80, I’ll run a mile.’”
She now works with her trainer, whom she considers a mentor. “He believes strongly in improving health through exercise. He’s a very good trainer who makes me work hard. I complain sometimes – and he pretends not to hear me,” she laughs.
But one thing her trainer did hear about was Kuhlman’s agreement to run a mile when she reached 80. So on her birthday, she ran a mile, with her grown children (three sons and a daughter) and friends cheering her accomplishment.
That first mile led to many others, and in 2010 Kuhlman ran in her first 5K in Massachusetts along with her son, who is also a runner.
She won in her age bracket and received her first trophy. By 2013 she qualified for National Senior Olympic Games, where she was a finalist in five races and won a bronze medal in the 1500-meter. Ten family members were on hand to celebrate with her, spanning the generations from her 89-year-old brother to her 11-month-old great grandchild.
Running was becoming a larger part of Kuhlman’s exercise regimen, although she laughs and says, “some days it’s not that enjoyable. But when you finish, you feel good. The endorphins kick in.”
And exercise was helping her feel better and better.
“My health was not the best when I started,” she says. “I had atrial fibrillation, COPD, some minor heart disease, and used inhalers for asthma. Since I’ve been training, my health has improved so much.
“I no longer take blood pressure or thyroid medicines, and my heart medications are a fourth of what they were previously. My blood work looks better than normal, and I don’t even have an inhaler now.
“Exercise may not reverse some of the diseases, but it moves them to the back burner. They don’t rule your life,” she says.
In 2009 Kuhlman became certified as a fitness instructor and personal trainer so she could encourage others.
“I wasn’t sure I could memorize all the muscles for the exam, but I did!” she says.
She now teaches a class called “Rockin’ to the Oldies” four times a week at the Wellness Complex, and works individually with people “who are serious about improving their health and their lives.”
Kuhlman has friends who occasionally ask her, “Don’t you think it’s time to slow down or stop exercising?”
To that she responds, “When I see what many people in my age group can’t do anymore, it encourages me to keep going. And I’m still improving. My times in the 2014 races were overall better than a year ago.”
In fact, her granddaughter recently discovered that Kuhlman is among the American Track and Field Association’s “Top 20 in the World” in her age group for certain races.
“I didn’t even know I made the list,” she says.
“Keeping fit is a gift that I can give to my family,” says Kuhlman, whose husband passed away in 1997. “My children don’t have to worry about me or my health – I can live independently and enjoy life.”
In addition to working out, Kuhlman plays golf, volunteers for the American Cancer Society, ushers at the Cumberland County Playhouse, and is active in her church.
Kuhlman strongly encourages others to become more active, even if they face some physical limitations or have not been active in the past.
“I want others to experience good health and enjoy life – just getting out and enjoying the outdoors by walking or maybe starting to run,” she suggests.
“My best time to run is early in the morning. It’s my quiet time to be thankful for the day. I am so blessed.”