Her life was scary hard. She was suffering from the debilitating effects of type 1 diabetes. She had to do something, even if it was extreme. Sometimes the risks of doing nothing are worse than the risks of jumping into the unknown. At 34, Julia decided to have an experimental double organ transplant. Life improved, she moved forward for decades, but life was not all that she imagined it could be; she wanted to live her best life. On the 30th anniversary of her organ transplant, at age 62, she decided to challenge herself to get in the best physical shape of her life so that she could enjoy her best life now.
We are all examples to others; they notice us, we are influential. When we live our best lives, we are showing others that it can be done. We become beacons for the possible to all those around us. Sometimes being useful and helpful is as simple as showing up and radiating health, being that person in the room that starts the discussion around “you look great, what are you doing?” This is being of service, it is showing others that great changes can happen at any age, it is giving hope and inspiration, especially to younger people, that their future can be wonderful.
How old are you?
What do you do for work?
University Professor & Artist.
Where do you live?
Southern Atlantic Coast in USA.
What was your childhood like?
I have always been athletic and came from an athletic, sport-loving family. I was a competitive swimmer as a child, a runner, cheerleader, mountain climber as a teenager.
At age 11 I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and began on insulin shots. It was 1968, and diabetes was considered an “old person’s disease.”
By age 24, I had developed diabetic retinopathy (blindness), neuropathy (nerve damage), and beginning kidney failure plus arteriosclerosis and early heart disease. Laser burn treatments on my eyes saved my vision, but other diabetes complications advanced.
“I no longer wanted to live with diabetes. So I chose the riskier kidney-pancreas double organ transplant”
Can you tell us more about your diabetes and kidney concerns?
By age 34, my kidneys had failed and my doctors prepared me for dialysis while also putting me on a transplant waiting list for a kidney. At the time, in 1991, they were doing experimental organ transplants of the pancreas. Only about 2000 had been done in the world and the risks were high. People died during surgery or after, had strokes, heart attacks, or other complications. But at age 34, the choice was up to me whether to take the risks of both organs in a 12-hour risky surgery.
I no longer wanted to live with diabetes. I knew I might only live to 40 years even with a working kidney. Diabetes would destroy that one too. It was a slow death. So I chose the riskier kidney-pancreas double organ transplant. Then we waited for an available donor.
During this time, my love for humanity increased a thousand fold. We are all so connected to our fellow beings. I was basically waiting for someone to die so that I could live. It was a hard wait. I bless my organ donor every day. Gina died in a car accident and saved my life. And I bless all the surgeons, nurses, and caregivers who have made it their life purpose to save the lives of others. Life is a miracle!
My mindset about my health from then on was to take care of my body and these organs that were now mine. Life moves so fast. My 30th anniversary (2021) of the organ transplant was approaching. I was 62. I wanted to really express my joy of living and gratitude for being alive. It was that simple.
“I wanted to really express my joy of living and gratitude for being alive”
So I joined a fitness challenge. And won. Then set a goal of a bodybuilding competition, NPC Masters Bikini. And won. I am not proud of what I have done, I am extremely proud of what my body has done. What an amazing machine, the chariot for the Soul. It deserves the best care we can give it so we never stop living life fully. I want anyone over 50 to know that if I can do it, you can do it. You are not too old and it’s never too late. Time is an illusion and you are ageless.
What has the physical transformation been since starting your health journey?
A loss of fat, gaining muscle, strength, and physical endurance. I lost a total of over 35 pounds on my 5’1’ frame and gained loads of stamina. My physique is more sculpted than it’s ever been.
Describe your current weekly fitness routine.
I am in the gym for 1 – 2 hours, 5 days a week, and do brisk walking 4 times a week for about 30 – 50 minutes. I plan and prep my food for the week and make sure I have all the necessary ingredients for high protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats.
What about the mental/emotional transformation?
This has been the biggest change — the way that a structured lifestyle around taking care of your body and health has impacted me mentally and emotionally and spiritually has been the greatest transformation. We have a warrior who lives inside of us ready to face life with all the tools we’ve learned over time. If we don’t feel well, she never has a chance to come out and say: let’s kick ass and go for our dreams!
What are your current fitness goals?
To continue to transform into building more muscle through the science of body building and compete in two NPC Masters Bikini Competitions this summer.
What are some of the misconceptions women have around strength building?
It will make you bulky and look like a man, you’ll lose your femininity. Or they don’t like gyms due to not knowing how to use the machines or being self conscious.
“I called the 60s the Power Decade”
Not everyone has the discipline or desire to do what you do. What can others learn from your journey?
That it is never too late. You are never too old. You have the wisdom, likely the time, but you must have a WHY. My WHY continues to be gratitude for still being alive in this body. I was not going to live past 40 if I didn’t get the double organ transplant which gave me a working kidney (mine had failed) and a pancreas (I had childhood diabetes with all the complications by age 34.) A triple cardiac bypass due to heart disease (due to the diabetes) was done when I was 48. Then my thyroid was removed and menopause hit. There is no reason someone in their 60s cannot get more fit. Even just by walking. I called the 60s the Power Decade.
How did your friends and family react to your quest for fitness?
My husband is my number one fan and supporter. I have made this journey mostly private and not shared with friends and family. They don’t need my advice or inspiration, but the many unknown women followers in my age group that I have on Instagram do. That’s who I want to share this with so they know they can do it too.
Are you often sore? How do you recover?
I work hard in the gym with progressive overload but don’t get sore very often. When I do, stretching, take hot baths with salts, and take extra magnesium, get a deep tissue massage.
What are you eating?
Wholesome food! A balance of protein, carbs, and fats in amounts that are timed for the gym and days I don’t train. I used a macro system of tracking my food and usually take what I need with me when I travel. It’s a lot of food prep and planning but I never want to wonder what I’m going to eat! Yes, I have treats once in awhile.
How is your sleeping now vs before?
I sleep about the same — but now it has greater benefits as I know my body is recovering and repairing from lifting when I rest. At least 8 hours a night.
Who is your hero?
My organ donor, Gina, who died in a car accident at age 25. She was with her husband. I never knew what happened to him. Our tissue typing and antigen match was so close we could have been sisters. Her mother wrote letters to me for several years but then they stopped. I think her parents were older and finally passed away. Back then they would not allow donor families and recipients to meet. Just letters through the hospital administration, first names only. I tried to find her family recently and found out her husband was still alive. The donor network in the state she died in had found a current address. I sent a heartfelt letter to him. There has been no response in a year. But who can blame him? It was 31 years ago he lost his wife in a car accident. I don’t know the circumstances, but life has surely moved on beyond his tragic loss. I just hope he got my letter.
What are your 3 life non-negotiables?
1) I believe in the spiritual side of life and a Divine Source of Love & Life that guide me. 2) I believe every day is a gift and a chance to give back. 3) Don’t clip my wings.
Main image by @JeffBinns
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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.
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