Harold, 62 – Call It a Comeback – Senior Planet from AARP

Harold, 62 – Call It a Comeback – Senior Planet from AARP

Meet Harold Sanco. He’s one of the 2024 Senior Planet Sponsored Athletes, and he’ll be sharing updates on his health and wellness journey through the rest of this year.

Harold, age 62, has been an athlete and trainer for almost 50 years, but a series of emergency back surgeries threatened to end his career and active lifestyle. Through patience, perseverance, and the support of his community, Harold has fully recovered and returned to form. Today, he’s ready to inspire other older adults to reach their fitness goals.

“Is that me in the mirror?” I asked myself this countless times earlier last year after undergoing two emergency lumbar surgeries that left my once toned, fit frame, weak, largely immobile, and without a hint of the muscle development I’d spent decades training.

As I struggled with round-the-clock pain, limited mobility, and countless bottles of prescription medication, I wondered aloud: how, when, and if I would ever return to my pre-surgery, fitness level — much less bend over and tie my shoes again. My mind and body longed to push-up, pull down, squat, elevate, jump! — the basics; but how would I get there, and where would I begin?

A Lifelong Journey

I am Harold Sanco, a 62-year-old resident of the District of Columbia who has championed fitness at every level from adolescence to my now, “sensational senior” years! For nearly 50 years, I have participated competitively in various forms of fitness — first, as a high school track standout, and then lettering in tennis throughout high school and collegiate levels. As I reached adulthood, however, I found more joy teaching and motivating others to achieve their health and fitness goals than focusing solely on my individual fitness achievements.

Aging can be synonymous with agility, strength, and wellness.

I applied to become a Senior Planet Sponsored Athlete because I know aging can be synonymous with agility, strength, and wellness. This applies even when we suffer significant physical setbacks that we don’t think we can overcome or change, as I did. I want to broaden my ability to motivate and change the way we think about aging so that we don’t fear it. Instead, we should embrace aging mentally, physically, and equitably with all communities having within their reach, access to wellness and fitness opportunities that meet them where they are.

I would like to spread the good news about Senior Planet to my community more extensively — as the Covid pandemic continues to take its toll, limiting opportunities for our most vulnerable neighbors and friends to improve their health journeys through personal fitness and wellness options. As a Senior Planet Sponsored Athlete, I will work hard to help open more doors to fitness, helping each of us help one another to find pathways to fitness, not as “one person,” but as a community.

No Longer the Lone Ranger

I have learned many things on my fitness recovery journey. The first lesson was humility and acceptance. I could no longer be “The Lone Ranger” of fitness. Recovering from back surgery is tough, but with the right mindset of acceptance and embracing unconditional support from my fitness community (including meal preparation, rides to medical appointments, laundry and sometimes lifting me!), I was free to map out a comeback strategy to overcome it.

Second, I followed my doctor’s instructions (including prescribed physical therapy), and took things slow. I didn’t have a choice. Everything I did was slooow. As a trained competitor, I had to force myself not to push too hard or risk suffering a setback. Under no circumstances did I want to undermine or give up on a full recovery.

Everyone’s recovery journey is different, and I couldn’t compare myself to others or get discouraged if progress seemed slow.

Harold, 62 - Call It a Comeback - Senior Planet from AARP

I found that incorporating low-impact seated exercises initially, then gradually adding light weights, helped me regain strength and flexibility without putting too much strain on my back. As I progressed, I gradually added in more challenging exercises like walking short distances and lifting increased weights. Throughout it all, I needed to understand that everyone’s recovery journey is different, and I couldn’t compare myself to others or get discouraged if progress seemed slow. It was important to stay positive and focus on the incremental gains I was making, no matter how small.

Celebrate the Small Victories

Nearly a year later, my surgeon has cleared me to teach again and resume all my former activities. Throughout my check-ups, he was astounded at my rate of progress and the healing I’d made. I have now returned to personal training and coaching tennis. I will soon begin teaching online HIIT (high-intensity interval training) classes for a predominantly senior group of neighbors.

I’m still progressing and have my challenges, but I have learned to celebrate every small victory and keep pushing to reach my goals. With patience, perseverance, and the right mindset, you can return to fitness after back surgery and enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle once again. We’ve got this, Senior Planet!

Move and Groove

I look forward to getting to know the Senior Planet community better at my upcoming online presentation on Wednesday, April 17 at 1:30pm EDT: Movement + Music = Motivation. During this session, I will be demonstrating how aerobic and muscular fitness can be motivated by music and movement. Moving is improving!

In need of a little motivation to get moving? Join our daily health and wellness programs, stay tuned to the latest news and articles from SeniorPlanet.org by signing up for The Orbit weekly newsletter, and follow us on social media (FacebookInstagram | X) to get to know these awe-inspiring athletes. Plus, check out past Senior Planet Sponsored Athlete programs on our YouTube channel. You might just find a new love for fitness along the way!

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