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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bounce back

How do you keep fit? Visit our discussion board to share health tips, diet secrets and physical activities that help you stay in shape.

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Sally George's daily enthusiasm for racquetball has helped her fight arthritis and heart ailments.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Age: 58

Neighborhood: 'Aiea

Profession: Travel consultant to military and government travelers, Pearl Harbor

Height: 5-feet-6

Weight: 124 pounds

Advice for those in the same boat: "Women, don't let your age hold you back. It's never too late to start an exercise program. Menopause is no excuse not to exercise. Try something new. Try a sport or class that you've never tried before. Join a club that has a lot to offer, so if you get bored with one thing, there is something else to try."

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Workout habits: "Racquetball at the Honolulu Club every day for two to three hours, as long there is someone to play with. The weight machines provide a good complement to racquetball, so I'm on them four days a week for a minimum of one hour but usually more. I do 100 squats on the squat machine every day I am in the weight room. Depending on how much racquetball I am playing, I try to use the stationary bike for 45 to 60 minutes. It's easy because there is a bike right in front of the racquetball courts, so I can use it while waiting for a partner or in between games."

My biggest motivator: "Looking good. Although my looks have caught up with my age, I don't mind being asked how old I am. I'm proud of the way I have been able to stay fit and healthy looking. It's a joke around the club that I am usually one of the oldest players in the tournaments (always the oldest woman). I love playing in the men's divisions and being able to win some of the time. There are times when my partner and I have to play against my husband and his partners. Sometimes I win and sometimes he wins. He's a really good sport the times I've beat him."

My good foods/bad foods: "Everything in the fridge is fat-free or low-fat food or lite. I'm a definite label reader. However, I can't live without chocolate and ice cream. Gotta have both every day. Can't turn down gooey Mexican food and guacamole."

Her outlook: "I feel younger now and am in better shape than I was at 40. Cross training is a must. Playing racquetball every day won't do the job (by itself). Weight training and cardio have made a huge difference for me."

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Sally George, left foreground, plays racquetball at The Honolulu Club with, left from center, Al Nishimura, Palani Vaughn and partner Skip Akina. George builds leg muscles by using a stationary bike and by doing squats.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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When Sally George of 'Aiea hit 40, she was hit hard with health problems. Early menopause, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, mitral valve prolapse, a heart condition with a common symptom of fast heartbeat) and back surgery all tumbled down on her. But rather than taking it lying down, George hit the racquetball courts.

"I didn't want to sit back and let aging and health issues control me," George said.

"I discovered that (racquetball) helped all of my conditions. I got cardio to the max, stretching to keep my joints flexible, I lost weight, relieved stress, made new friends and overall, felt better. As a bonus, this is a sport my family could do together, It's indoors. We couldn't play tennis because my husband has skin cancer."

Now, at 58, George is in better health than ever before. Although her heart condition wreaked havoc on her during her 40s and early 50s, she has not had an episode in three years. "Racquetball and cardio have really helped strengthen my heart," she said.

Sport has also helped her arthritis and menopause.

"For years I was taking anti-inflammatory medication twice daily plus a rheumatoid-arthritis medication daily. Now I don't have to take the anti-inflammatory unless I'm not able to exercise," George said. "Without exercise, my joints stiffen. Racquetball has kept me limber.

"Menopause at 40 was the hardest ... but now it's a thing of the past," George said. "For a whole year, I didn't know what was wrong with me. Short 15-minute drives to and from work were exhausting. Doctors tested me for everything under the sun, and then it was time for my yearly ob/gyn visit, where it was discovered it was 'ONLY' the big M. The big M made me feel like I was going crazy. I couldn't do anything. Sleeping was my greatest joy, which is really sad."


When George began playing racquetball, her son, Lee, was 11, so she brought him along with her. It didn't take long before he was playing with equal enthusiasm. Now a college graduate and working, Lee serves as the racquetball pro at The Honolulu Club in his after hours.

"She loves the sport," Lee said of his mother. "Her license plate says 'RQTBAL' It keeps her in shape, and keeps her happy and motivated. I'm actually surprised she stuck with it this long, but she loves to play with the men, and she hangs in there."

And how. Lee and her partner, Skip Akina of Makiki, recently won the mixed open doubles and the men's doubles in the Star Markets Doubles Tournament for those 40 and older.

"She's one of the best and most disciplined doubles players in the Islands," Akina said.

Lee said racquetball has become an important part of his entire family's social life. "That's why I teach — to give back (to the sport) when I can."


Although racquetball is considered a sport that is particularly hard on the body, George said she finds the hot tub a useful tool for injury prevention: "What better way to warm up the muscles?"

She also makes a point of walking down stairs to the courts barefoot so she has to stretch while putting on her shoes. "It kills two birds with one stone," she said.

"Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder is the best. How many times do you suppose I swing my arm hitting the ball during six or more games? Plenty!" I use light weights, resistance machines and stretch bands for this purpose."

"After having lower-back surgery, I make sure to strengthen my lower-back muscles as well as the abs to support my body. My legs are really strong now, due to 100 squats a day plus stretching the Achilles tendon," George said.


George said she is an avid label reader, who makes a point of buying everything possible in low-fat or fat-free versions: mayo, milk, sour cream, cottage cheese and salad dressing.

Karl Wissmann, president and CEO of Star Markets, can vouch for that. A frequent racquetball partner of George's, he said they have long discussions regarding foods that should be carried in his markets. "She's conscious of healthy food choices, and she gives me input on things we should carry," he said.

Wissmann also admires George's approach to their sport. "She makes it fun," he said. "She is a good example of someone who has taken physical activity and turned it into her hobby, which pays off in health benefits."

In addition to a full-time job, George is the caretaker for her 88-year-old mother. "There are lots of doctor's appointments and so on. Sometimes I feel guilty for spending so much time away from home. I'm lucky that my husband loves to work out, too," she said.

George's goal? "To stay fit and teach my young grandson to play racquetball when he is old enough. I can't imagine anything that would make me happier than being able to play with him."

Reach Paula Rath at paularath@aol.com.