A fountain of youth: Attitude and exercise key for triathlete

August 2012 Posted in Your Health

By Brenna WiegandExercise and attitude  helped Gerrie Faessler-Gray reverse her osteoporosis and need for medication.

I met Gerrie Faessler-Gray while interviewing Marie Jackson about her new Thai Massage practice in Silverton.

She was a good sport about being in the photo.

Gerrie, 69, told me she raised eight kids on a dairy farm near Silverton; that her first husband, Charles Faessler, had passed away shortly after they sold the dairy and moved to Scio when their kids began attending Regis High School.

She now has 13 grandchildren and has remarried, living in Silverton with her husband Allan Gray.

I asked why she was having a massage, guessing she had back issues or other age ailments. I was wrong.

Rather, Gerrie thought a good stretching-out would be a help as she trained for her fourth mini-triathlon.

Twelve years ago, Gerrie was a whole different person from the spritely, smiling lady of today.

“I woke up one morning and I just hurt so bad,” she said. “It took me an hour just to turn over in bed.”

After three weeks of misery, she finally made the trip to see her doctor.

Lab tests revealed fibromyalgia rheumatica was at the root of her widespread pain.

Her doctor prescribed prednisone, an adrenal steroid that works wonders but can have serious side effects, including the possibility of developing osteoporosis. She was dependent on it for the next eight years.

“The prednisone made it go away, but whenever I tried to get off it I was like an old lady. I could hardly get in and out of the car – it was horrible.”

Gray’s doctor retired and her new doctor insisted she get off the stuff, weaning her off in extremely small increments and having her taking calcium and Vitamin D.

It took two to three months, but shortly thereafter a bone density test revealed Gray had osteoporosis, brought on by the prednisone.

“I said, ‘Oh my God – now my bones are all going to break.’”

But nothing keeps Gray down for long; her normally positive outlook bobbed back to the surface.

“We get to choose everything we do,” she said. “It’s all about your attitude that makes life good.”

A neighbor gave her a book – Younger Next Year that inspired her. She’s read it three times.

“The idea is you can rejuvenate; rebuild your body with 45 minutes of exercise a day,” she said, “and I found out how important it was to get enough sleep.”

She also read up on osteoporosis and discovered that strength training was the best thing for it.

She started eating right and stepped up her pace at the gym, even hiring a trainer. She also sought a goal that would further motivate her.

“I went for a 40-mile bike ride with my oldest daughter (Carlene Ingerly),” Gray said, “and when I said I needed something more, she suggested I do a mini-triathlon.”

“You already swim and you bike,” her daughter told her. “I said yeah but I can’t run. She said I could walk it.”

She checked out the route at Western Oregon University and saw that the biking portion was 17 miles of hills. She was used to her flat route between Mount Angel and Silverton.

Gray’s daughter had a friend who offered to do the biking, so two years ago she did her first mini-triathlon, taking on the swimming and running.

By two years out from the osteoporosis diagnosis, Faessler was working out six days a week, feeling strangely better rather than worse – better, in fact, than she had in a long time. It was time for another check-up.

“My doctor said my osteoporosis was totally reversed,” Gray said. “She was amazed and began telling her patients about me. Two years later, and it was gone – gone!”

Gray logged her fourth mini-triathlon – a benefit for the Stayton Pool – in May, tackling all three portions of it and, as with her three previous, took second place

“When I started with the trainer I could not get up off the floor without having to crawl to a piece of furniture because that drug just sucks your muscles out too,” she said. “You have to change your mindset and make it a priority in your day. If the sun’s out I can get up and ride for three hours or go for a walk. If it’s raining or dark, I go to the gym.

“A lot of times you just don’t feel like working out, but after you do you feel like a million dollars – it gets those endorphins going. I can go swimming or biking and when I’m done I’m ready to go – it’s amazing.”

Not much stands in her way.

“We travel a lot year round,” Gerrie told me. “I just pack up my shoes and shorts, my GPS and my heart monitor; it’s surprising how all the hotels have gyms and pools nowadays – the cruise boats, too.

“It’s like I got a whole new body,” she said. “I don’t take any medication at all and my cholesterol is great.”

Gray has become an inspiration to many, who want to know more about her regime. She hopes people her age – anyone, really – realize what can result from picking up their tempo.

“I used to think, who would want to be in the golden years? But the golden years have turned out to be fantastic,” she said. “So far getting old has been quite fun and no regrets. It’s like a new life.

“I can always pay the bills tomorrow,” Gray said. “Lots of times at night we’ll watch TV, but you know how long those commercials are. My husband and I will turn on the stereo and dance, and when the show is back on we sit down. It’s a fun way to move.”

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