For Peggy Fleming, a lot of healthy choices boil down to simply paying attention.
It’s a concept the champion figure skater mentions several times in a telephone conversation from Knoxville, Tenn., where she’s just visited with athletes heading to the 2011 Summer National Senior Games in Houston.
The Olympic gold medalist will stop Wednesday in Mesa to recognize Arizona athletes on their way to the games. The world’s largest multi-sport event for seniors, the games attract more than 15,000 athletes older than 50 to compete June 16-30 in 800 events.
Fleming won five U.S. figure skating titles, three world titles and, in 1968, an Olympic gold medal. Now in her early 60s, she remains an advocate of good diet, regular exercise and staying in tune with one’s own body.
It’s a practice that’s saved her life. In 1998, on the 30th anniversary of her gold medal victory, Fleming was diagnosed with breast cancer. Catching it early made the difference, and more than a decade later, Fleming is cancer-free. She’s also an advocate for the importance of early detection.
Here, Fleming chats about making health and fitness a lifelong priority.
Q: Why do you lend your time and energy to the Summer National Senior Games?
A: I think it’s an important issue as the population is aging. I’m aging, too. I want to stay healthy and get out there and participate in life, and the best way to do that is to exercise, eat right and take care of yourself. The Games are a great opportunity for people to have a goal and be with friends and have some exercise, but also have a lot of fun. I just got so excited seeing these athletes — their enthusiasm and energy! They’re so proud of themselves, and they’re trying. They’re serious about their sport, but they’re having fun with it, too.
Q: What’s your fitness routine like these days?
A: I pay attention to how I feel. I watch what I eat. I exercise regularly; I run and lift weights. I still skate recreationally, but skating’s not the way I stay fit. It’s just an activity for fun.
Q: Tell us more about your running. Have you run any races?
A: I do an hour of cardio on the elliptical or the treadmill. If I’m in a city, sometimes I’ll run half an hour one way and half an hour back. You can just time it; you don’t have to know how many miles you’re going and all that. I’ve done a lot (of races) over the years, just to participate in something and have fun with friends. To have somewhere to be at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning, and if you don’t show up, well, that’s not being a very good friend. You’ve got to find ways to motivate yourself. I’ve always done a bit (of running) here and there.
Q: As you’ve gotten older, is there anything that’s harder than it used to be?
A: I have to push myself to get out there and be consistent, just like everybody else. When I gain 5 or 10 pounds I go, “That’s just not me,” and I turn it around until I get it under control. It’s all about what you eat and how much exercise you do. It’s a balancing act, no matter what age, but as you get older it gets harder because our metabolism is changing. I have to be spot-on about what I eat. You really can’t cheat at this age.
Q: What tempts you, diet-wise?
A: I love bread. Sourdough and croissants and all of that. And butter. That kind of thing. I just cut that back a little bit, but I don’t cut it out entirely. My portions get smaller. I can (eat) it, but it would work better if I didn’t. Sometimes I’m just not willing to give it up.
Q: Is there any particular practice or exercise that’s served you well your whole life?
A: Be aware of injuries. If something starts to hurt, it’s a sign that something’s not right. Just taking care of injuries at the first sign of something hurting. That’s the great thing about exercise — it makes you focus on yourself and how you feel.
Q: What advice do you have for people of any age when it comes to taking charge of one’s own well-being?
A: Get outdoors in the fresh air, just for 40 minutes. Just start walking. It helps your mind. It helps just getting that freshness and time to focus on you and how you feel. That’s the best way to start, and just keep adding to it, as much as you want.
Also, try taking up a sport that you haven’t tried before. It takes the focus off the idea that you’re actually doing exercise. You know, when we were younger we were told by our parents, “Why don’t you go outside and play?” And we played for hours. They didn’t tell us to go outside and “exercise.” Now, it seems like exercise is such a focus; we have to exercise. Really, we just need to get out and play! Just start having fun, and then you don’t even notice, it doesn’t seem like work that way. Being around the energy of a game, the energy of other people, that’s the first step to getting into all this.
Q: A glass of wine has its place in all of this exercise and eating right, doesn’t it? You and your husband, Greg Jenkins, do own a winery.
A: Yes, it does! It’s all a balancing act. You over-do, and then it does the reverse. Life is that way.
Our winery is called Fleming Jenkins Vineyards and Winery, and $2 from every bottle of our Victories Rosé goes to breast cancer research. In seven years, we’ve been able to donate more than $38,000 to the cause. I’m a grateful survivor, and I think we are making advancements in research and saving a lot more people. The awareness campaign cannot stop. We have to reach every single person and have them be responsible for themselves and pay attention and participate in their health.
Q: What else is on the horizon for you?
A: I’m doing some things with NBC, a few hosting jobs. They are skating events that are coming up in October. And I still do some speaking engagements on behalf of breast cancer. Our life is very busy at home. We’ve got three grandsons and two sons, so it’s never dull. We’ve been married 41 years, and we’re having fun. Today is actually our wedding anniversary. I’m lucky, so I want to keep that on a roll — being positive and taking care of myself.
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