BY NICOLAS FERNANDES
A 97-year-old woman who was never athletic in her young life has switched her knitting needles for a bathing suit and is now a champion competitive swimmer.
Ruth Thompson, of Dinwiddie, Virginia, USA, tried sports for the first time when she was in her late 70’s and competed in her first National Senior Games competition just five years ago.
Attempting the physical activity as a way to get out of the house, Ruth has now won many medals, including two silver and one bronze in 2017.
The competitor was not very active as a youth due to suffering rheumatic fever at the age of eight, and rarely joined in sports, not learning to ride a bike until her teen years.
But things changed for the retiree when a local recreation director suggested that she try participating in the Senior Games.
Ruth, a former court worker and piano instructor, said: “I just wanted to find something to do that would help me stay active.
“I believe that everyone should be working towards a goal each day, no matter how old you are.
“Winning medals has really been the icing on the cake, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about getting out there and doing something.
“For most of my life, I was not athletic. I competed for the first time when I was 92.
“At first I didn’t think I could do it because I was never that fit.
“It feels very good to be getting exercise on a regular basis.”
To prepare for her competitions, the mum-of-four practices swimming three times a week.
Before joining the senior games, the most physical activity she did was going for leisure walks and riding her bicycle around the neighborhood.
Ruth said: “Participating in these competitions requires a lot of planning and practice.
“For the first 75 years of my life, the most exercise I did was walking and riding my bike.”
But swimming is not the only thing that keeps Ruth busy, she still serves as a pianist at her church and takes courses for pleasure at the community college.
The competitive swimmer said: “I am not the type of person who just retires and sits home. A lot of people do that and it is not healthy.
“I’ve been taking college classes for about seven years now. It’s so interesting to learn about new topics.
“There’s always something new for you to learn, no matter how old you are.”
Ruth’s experience in the classroom is a bit different from the other students, as she does not take any exams or receive a grade at the end of the semester.
The enthusiastic student is solely there to join in the discussions and have fun learning.
The senior citizen has completed every history lecture offered at the school and is currently looking into other subjects to learn.
She said: “At first, I was taking all of the tests and worrying about what kind of grade I was going to get. Then a professor came to me and suggested that I just show up and enjoy myself.
“I love learning about history and now that I’ve taken every history class possible, I’ll be able to learn about something else.”
Ruth plans to continue competing, playing the piano and attending courses for the rest of her life.
She added: “I have no desire to stop. I’m going to keep at it for as long as I’m alive.”