One of the great things about working at Zibrio is the opportunity to meet inspiring people. If you haven’t yet heard of DeEtte Sauer, you haven’t been paying attention.
She’s a two time gold medalist in the National Senior Games, getting up every day at 4.30am to swim at her local club, where, at 76, she’s 12 years older than the other ‘senior’ swimmers in her team.
Yet what is really inspiring about her, even more than her enthusiasm and current fitness, is the story of how she got here. She wasn’t always fit, in fact for most of her life she was overweight, drank heavily, smoked and engaged in little or no exercise. As she puts it, if she’d continued like that, she’d be dead by now.
Over a period of months she managed to give up smoking and drinking. The following year she stepped away from her obsession with her stressful career, and that’s when the real weight began to pile on. By the time she was 46, she weighed 250lbs, unable to join in the fun on family holidays, unable to wear anything except huge tent-like dresses that she pretended camouflaged the now desperate state of her health.
One day, the fantasy came crashing down
She had to do something. Her cholesterol was out of control, her blood pressure was high, she didn’t have the balance or strength to climb into a boat on the lake where they were vacationing. This was the final straw in a realization that had been building over a few months.
She began studying nutrition and changed her family’s diet from fried, sugary foods (“I used to eat two apple fritters while doing the grocery shopping!” she says), to healthy options.
She buddied with a friend, and together they walked every day, kept each other accountable with good eating. Surprisingly, she said, the weight began to drop off quite quickly, and that was adrenalizing. “I felt fabulous”. The big payoff came when she was shopping with friends in a ‘normal’ (not plus sized) store and discovered that she could fit into a size 14 pair of jeans. It was an emotional moment, and one that spurred her to continue.
Soon, she’d joined a gym to gain upper body strength, and when that started to get a bit boring, she spotted a flyer for a new masters swim team.
“I had watched my daughters swim, so I figured I could do it too,” she said.
The first class almost dashed her hopes, she couldn’t even swim 25 yards. On the point of giving up and feeling embarrassed, she was shocked when the young 22 year old coach said the life-changing words: “Stop your whining and do as I say. You can do this, just do what I tell you!”
From Fear to Inspiration
After 3 months, the coach had signed her up for her first competition, which was terrifying. “I was afraid of embarrassing myself,” she remembers. “But when I got there, I became inspired by Jesse Coons – a 92 year old doing butterfly. After that I knew I had to have a go.”
She has never looked back, and at the 2017 Senior Games in Alabama, she found added meaning when waiting to go up to the podium and collect her gold medal – a bucket list item. She was approached by a couple in their mid 40’s who had driven especially to meet her. “We saw your story on CBS and it inspired us. We were also killing ourselves with our unhealthy lifestyles, and thanks to you, we have changed and we are so happy.” Their words made her personal triumph all the sweeter.
DeEtte, for all her energy and positive outlook is only human. There are days when she’s tempted to gorge on double chocolate cakes, or sleep through her alarm. But she likes herself better as this healthy person. She tells herself she can go down to the pool and have an easy session. That gets her out of the door. And when she reaches the pool, her team mates and coach will push her and support her and she’ll feel great afterwards.
“If I didn’t go, I’d miss it,” she says. “We start every day laughing.”
And as for the chocolate binge, she likes her new discipline, feels that with it she is no longer hiding herself, she can be who she really is.
When she’s not travelling as an athlete, DeEtte and her husband tutor middle school kids who need extra help with their school work. I suspect that’s also part of the reason for her energetic and youthful outlook on life.