One doctor's appointment nearly two decades ago motivated a blind, retired school teacher to transform her unhealthy lifestyle and embark on an unexpected athletic journey. Now, at 67, Vivian Stancil has become one of the nation’s most honored age-group Senior Olympics swimmers, with 176 medals, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"A bowling ball wouldn't even describe what I was,” Stancil told the LA Times, recalling how her doctor told her she would not reach her 60th birthday if she did not lose weight. "I could barely walk. But I wanted to live, so I instantly knew what I had to do: change my diet and start exercising.”
Her lifelong fear of water coupled with her legal blindness made swimming an unlikely sport for Stancil. But after several failed attempts at various diets and wiring her jaw shut, she decided that swimming would be the most feasible exercise for her 319-pound frame.
To combat her fear, Stancil teamed up with a local swimming instructor who had experience training middle-aged adults afraid of the water. "I was trembling,” she said about her first few lessons. "'Lord, I don't want to die like this,' I thought.”
Stancil’s anxiety soon turned into confidence as her swimming lessons and healthy five-day-a-week diet helped her refine the crawl, backstroke and butterfly while dropping from a size 24 dress to a size 12, the LA Times reports.
Her foray into competitive swimming only further proved her improvement as she began winning top medals at the local and state Senior Qualifier games. The ambitious athlete currently has her sights set on a medal at the 2015 National Senior Games in Minneapolis.
As for her blindness, Stancil learned to navigate the lanes at every meet by sound and memorization. "I typically do 35 freestyle strokes in a 25-meter pool, and you can bet I count every one,” she said. "Because nothing will ruin your day like bumping your head on the wall.”
When she is not swimming, Stancil is encouraging other seniors and at-risk youth to participate in athletics through the Vivian Stancil Olympian Foundation, which she started in 2012. She shares her inspirational story three times a year through her Youth Empowerment Motivation Program talks.
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