DeEtte Sauer has more than enough reasons to be happy today. Now 81-years-old, she’s a decorated masters swimmer, ranked number one in the entire world in the 200-meter butterfly in her age group. She’s set swimming records galore, and maintains close relationships with family and the friends and competitors she’s made at events like the National Senior Games. Sauer is a shining example of active longevity and the feats that can be achieved at any age.
But her life wasn’t always like this. Earlier in her life, Sauer wasn’t happy. She battled addiction to alcohol and cigarettes well into her 30’s, and spiraled even deeper when she tried to quit her vices.
“At age 39, I quit smoking and drinking, which I thought was going to make me healthier, but it ended up leading me straight to food,” Sauer revealed. “So I blew up to 250 pounds. I was sedentary, I was miserable. The funny thing is I thought, ‘Well maybe this is just how it is at 40 and you just feel old and you are old.’ Which is crazy because my life has flipped so much that at 81, I don’t even feel old.”
Sauer started eating healthier foods. She began regular exercise and leaned on her faith. But it wasn’t until she met a special swimming coach that she says her life fully changed.
“I showed up at a pool to join a masters team [at age 58]. I couldn’t swim a lick. I don’t even understand why I showed up,” Sauer continued through tears. “There was a special coach there that said, ‘I will teach you, you can do this.’ She encouraged me, and she changed my life.”
That moment led to countless others in masters athletics. Sauer lost more than 100 pounds, and began traveling to swimming events across the country. Even now, more than 20 years after that first time in the pool, she still looks to her swimming community for support.
“I swim with two other people in my lane. We constantly swim together and train together,” Sauer explained. “One’s 12 years younger, one’s 15 years younger. I struggle every day to keep up with them. I struggle every day to make sure that I’m swimming as fast and as furiously as they are. If I’m not there, they call, they text asking ‘Where are you? Why aren’t you here?’ It’s being part of that community, and then the people I see here at [The National Senior Games], oh my gosh, I love them! We’re like-minded people who all are just trying to keep going at our ages.”
Sauer hopes that the example she has set will inspire multiple generations of younger adults to start their own path towards better health and wellbeing.
“I hope [it inspires younger athletes]. In fact, I’ve talked to some of the younger people around here and they say, ‘It’s jaw dropping! These people, I can’t believe what they can do.’ Any young person that has access to seeing this can really capture some of the spirit here. And find what does keep you going and what does keep you striving for health and vitality and living a vigorous life.”
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This article is featured in the November 2022 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.