“The less you do, the less you’ll want to do. You have to get out there and move.”
Most mornings, Wellmark member Bill Johnston, 78, can be found at the gym. While many gym-goers block out social interaction by plugging into their headphones, Johnston always manages a smile and a wave, at least. If you’re lucky enough to land a treadmill next to him, you may just form a new friendship.
“I am a people person. People energize me. I find people to talk with everywhere I go,” says Johnston. “Part of the reason I enjoy the gym is for comradery. A lot of my friendships have come about because of fitness.”
Connect with your community
Johnston knows a little bit about making friends in a new community. He moved to Ankeny, Iowa, 10 years ago, but he has lived in Nebraska, California and even Alaska for a while.
He has found that the gym and church are both great places to meet people. Before his workouts, Johnston attends daily church with his wife. In the afternoons, he can be found volunteering with his friends from the Knights of Columbus, doing charitable work and fundraising.
“Keep putting yourself out there, and friendships will form,” he advises. Johnston knows a little bit about being met with resistance, too. Case in point, he lives in a community full of Iowa and Iowa State fans. For the treadmill workouts, he wears his trademark Nebraska sweatpants, Nebraska t-shirts, and of course, his red Nebraska headbands, with the white “N” displayed proudly in the middle. He is a proud Husker fan, and he puts his allegiance out there boldly.
“Football, and sports in general, is something that really connects me with a lot of people,” says Johnston. He adds that sometimes it actually helps to be rooting for the opposing team, if you have a healthy attitude toward it. “Sure, I take a lot of heat for my love of Nebraska football, but that’s what makes it interesting and fun.”
Nebraska football was practically a requirement for Johnston, who graduated from the University of Nebraska. He also worked for the fire department, as a fireman and then as fire captain, for 20 years.
Just keep moving
All his life, Johnston has been active, playing on softball leagues and running. The first time Johnston ran was in 1967, when a fellow fireman presented him with a simple dare: “I bet you can’t run a mile.”
“Well, I did, and I didn’t stop,” laughs Johnston, who continued running for more than 40 years, rarely missing a day. Even when he was on vacation, he found time to run. He ran his first marathon in Omaha in 1977, when few people were into long distance running.
"Overall, I find that the less you do, the less you’ll want to do,” adds Johnston. “You have to get out there and move.”
In 2012, when Johnston was 71, a routine checkup and stress test revealed five blocked arteries. Shortly after, he had surgery to place five stents. This health scare inspired a 40-pound weight loss.
Today, Johnston walks at least an hour a day, five days a week. He has kept the weight off, and aside from the prescription for his heart condition, he doesn’t take any other medicine.
“I think the fact that I’ve stayed active, mentally and physically, is part of the reason I have a good quality of life today. It has taken me far. Now, if the Huskers could just pull off a winning season,” he jokes, “Now that would take my quality of life to a whole new level.”
“Stay engaged and make a difference, your way!”
From a letter sent to us by Wellmark member Pam Thomas.
It doesn’t matter what activities you choose to keep yourself healthy, body and soul. The key is do something on a regular basis. If you miss a day because of pain or illness, don’t throw it all away. Get back to it the next day, with doctor’s permission of course.
I’ve been a cyclist since the early 80s. I tried to be a runner but was bad at it. Cycling has brought experiences and friendships into my life, with much blessing. I have completed several RAGBRAIs since 1983. I also bicycled across the USA in 1995 with Iowa Sesquicentennial group. That was such an amazing experience and where I met my late husband.
Along with a couple other women, I helped start the women’s only Wild Women’s Bike Club in early 2000. This club has grown to more than100 members. For me, it was a saving grace when my husband died.
Find your purpose
As for living my life with purpose, in 2013 I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Eventually, I had to leave my full time job. So, I substituted work for pay with work for charity. I have been working with rescue shelter animals for more than three years now. Rescue work is rewarding and heart wrenching. You see everything.
Over the course of time that I’ve been working with rescue animals, there has been the occasional cat that has stayed in my home. It happens! As long as you know the number of cats or dogs you can care for, financially and physically, you are OK.
So I say to all people who have encountered a loss of a family member or who are challenged by a life-altering disease, do not stop doing what you are passionate about. Stay engaged and make a difference, your way!
Rescuing one cat won’t change the world, but it will change the world for that one cat!
God bless you one & all, Pam Thomas
Stay tuned for more stories from members like you
We have received so many great tips from Blue readers about living gracefully. We plan to share as many as possible in the next few editions of Blue.
We would love to hear from you, too!
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