Henry David Thoreau once said, “None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”
The quote seems appropriate for one unique physical and mental specimen who apparently returns to her Boones Creek domicile only when she’s convinced she’s earned a rest.
Last week the feisty 80-year-old Ruth Sluder stepped away from one of her Taekwondo sessions at Olson’s Martial Arts Academy where she is a third-degree black belt to talk a bit about her brand of enthusiasm.
It was her birthday. She’d just finished breaking a wooden board with her foot. The rosy glow on her cheeks was not rouge, and she fidgeted inside her martial arts garb, anxiously watching her “family” go through their maneuvers.
That’s how she defines her martial arts mates. In turn, those at the school say she’s “the mom of the group.”
“Before my husband died, he told me to go on and enjoy life,” she said with a smile. “My mother lived until she was 94. She exercised all her life — every day up until she passed. Age is only a number, and mine’s unlisted.”
If her number can’t be found, her accomplishments certainly can be.
She takes classes at Olson’s on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. But she’s there five days a week, either sparring, using assorted weaponry, running through demanding physical routines or assisting instructors. You would think that schedule for anyone over 50 would be a handful.
“Before I come here I go to the Wellness Center,” she said. “I’m with Silver Sneakers. We do Zumba, then I lift weights and walk. I also do belly dancing on Wednesday’s at the Kingsport Senior Center. I did clogging and Irish Step Dancing until I was in my mid-60s.”
Glenn and Amanda Olson, who own the school, threw a birthday party for Sluder a few days before she turned 80. Sluder has been going to Olson’s since 2007, and Glenn Olson said she is an inspiration to every-one.
“She’s a phenomenal lady,” he said. “Most people even close to her age opt for our Tai Chi program. She made it clear right away that was too slow for her. From an instructor’s perspective, she’s not afraid of anything. She constantly challenges herself. She’s my oldest I’ve had in 20 years of teaching. She surprises me on a routine basis.”
Sluder, a big-time University of Tennessee Volunteers fan, said she and former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt write to each other on a regular basis. She also said she’s only been hurt seriously once, when someone kicked her a little too hard and hurt her shoulder.
Otherwise, it’s hard to detect much wear and tear on the extremely active lady with seven grandchildren. When it’s time to hit the bag, she’s on it. When the group slams to the floor to do pushups, she’s counting them off. Routines and movements — has them down to a tee.
You likely know that exercise decreases the stress hormones such as cortisol and increases endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural “feel good chemicals,” and when they are released through exercise, your mood is boosted naturally.
Have a sit down with Sluder — when and if you can make that happen — and you’ll see that you can skip any further research on the subject of the “feel good theory.”
“I like the friendships I’ve made with everybody,” she said. “This also is the best thing I can do for myself, both physically and mentally.”
By the way, the ambitious Sluder plans to start taking Jiu Jitsu next summer.
“You never know unless you try,” she said.