60 Strong Austin Jewish Community Members Show That Vibrant Aging is About Attitude

60 Strong Austin Jewish Community Members Show That Vibrant Aging is About Attitude

Lisa Kurek lifts weights at CrossFit South Lamar. CrossFit photos: Courtesy of CrossFit South Lamar.

By Tonyia Cone

Three women connected to the local Jewish community are proving that life after turning 60 can be a positive, vibrant and active time in a calendar featuring Austin-area events and activities.

The 2019 Austin 60 Strong calendar features 12 Central Texas residents in their 60s who were nominated based on their health, fitness and wellness, community involvement, volunteerism and how they are inspirational to others. They may have achieved remarkable levels of fitness, pursued a new hobby or devoted their time to helping those in need. Others might be fighting a chronic condition or caring for someone who is.

While each 60 Strong Ambassador who was chosen by a panel of celebrity judges has a different story to tell—from overcoming cancer to summiting the highest peak in North America—they all defy the odds and prove that the experience of aging is shaped by a person’s state of mind.

Each month in the calendar features a 60 Strong Ambassador in front of an Austin landmark, along with health tips and information about Medicare like important deadlines and dates for open enrollment.

In addition to appearing in the Austin 60 Strong calendar, ambassadors received celebrity treatment with a kick-off party, professional photo shoot and compensation for their time as a model.

A celebration of grit and resilience, the Austin 60 Strong contest was created by Connected Senior Care Advantage, a partnership by Austin Regional Clinic and Premier Physicians, as a public service tool to encourage adults to stay active and help them navigate the complexities of Medicare enrollment and other healthcare decisions.

Dr. Anas Daghestani, CEO of Austin Regional Clinic, said, “Recently, ARC partnered with Premier Physicians to launch Connected Senior Care Advantage, a unique, Central-Texas based Medicare Advantage option that provides more coordinated, accountable and quality medical care to our patients and community. Our hope with CSCA is to empower more adult patients to live the best life they can.”

Lisa Kurek

Kurek’s family was pretty typical—she owned her own business and was focused on working and traveling—until her 23-year-old daughter died in a 2014 accident.

“When she died it just kind of threw our whole world upside down and everything stopped and we just kind of went underground for a while,” Kurek said. “When we emerged, slowly I said, ‘I have to figure out how to live my life again both for her and for us and for my son.’”

Kurek had previously listened to mix tapes her daughter, Sophie, made for her runs and weight lifting workouts, and found that routine too emotionally painful to continue. So, needing a new physical activity, she turned to CrossFit.

"I stumbled into this CrossFit gym and they took me under their wing. I am now one of what they call—there's two of us—‘the old ladies of CrossFit,’ and they've been kind of my extended family, holding me up," she said.

She also turned to the Austin Center of Grief and Loss, first as a client and participant in grief support groups, before training to become a facilitator. She now volunteers at the center, co-facilitating a bereaved parents group.

“I continue to to kind of hold space for other bereaved parents who need a way to figure out how to survive,” said Kurek, who started her blog, dragonflykarma.com, to help other bereaved parents as well as those who don’t know what to say to bereaved parents they meet.

“It’s been a very difficult four and a half years, but we survived and I got strong,” said Kurek.

Kurek explained that the coolest part of being selected to be a 60 Strong Ambassador has been connecting with the other people who were chosen.

“None of us escapes challenges. Some are more difficult than others. But, you know, that's human nature. So meeting those other 11 people who find their own ways to work through their own individual traumas and share to try and help others, that was real inspiring,” she said.

Susan Joiner

When Joiner quit smoking in 1994, she realized she needed to find another way to deal with stress and excess energy. So she started walking, which led to running.

“I fell in love with the way being fit made me feel,” she said.

Joiner overdid her training and became injured, so she joined the J in 2000 and began rotating running with cycling, spinning and swimming.

In 2002, at 44 years old, Joiner was diagnosed with with stage II-C ovarian cancer. Rather than take a break from fitness, she hired personal trainer DJ Olssen, who is now her wife, and continued working out in order to aid her recovery.

Joiner’s cancer was estrogen-receptor-positive, meaning that the cancer cells may have been receiving signals from estrogen that could promote their growth. Her treatment included hormone therapy that could have lead to decreased bone density, so in order to prevent osteoporosis, she started lifting weights.

“I think fitness is a huge component of my being alive today. I am grateful I’m able to practice fitness at a high level because it is life giving,” Joiner said.

After her treatment, until her workload became preventatively heavy, Joiner completed the Livestrong Challenge, a cycling event, and Danskin triathlons.

Joiner, who believes her cancer is gone for good, hasn’t slowed down since then. Even with plantar fasciitis, she lifts weights six days each week, and spins three days each week.

“DJ and I talk about training constantly,” said Joiner. The two are getting ready to go skiing and when their work schedules allow, want to do a weeklong bike ride. Joiner would also love to hike the Himalayan Mountains one day.

“Anything that involves movement, I’m into,” she said.

Her selection for the 60 Strong calendar is an honor, Joiner explained.

“There are people in this calendar who’ve done far greater things than I’ve even considered doing. I am absolutely amazed I was chosen. I’m honored to be in the company of these other people,” said Joiner.

“It’s nice to get a pat on the back, and for someone to say this hard work is paying off. It’s encouraging in that sense. It’s a long way from ovarian cancer in 2002,” she added.

Miriam Raviv

Raviv has been involved in triathlons since the mid-1990s, when she was in her mid-40s. Living in Southern California at the time, she attended a weekend tri training camp run, was immediately hooked by the triathlon scene’s enthusiasm, positivity and fun, and started signing up for sprint triathlons. She soon fell in love with the sport.

"For me, a triathlon is a super fun party with hundreds of my very best friends. When competing, I feel like a rock star with all the cheers and love encouraging me to keep going,” Raviv said.

When she moved to Austin in 2005, Raviv was thrilled to find that the region is a mecca for triathletes, with races scheduled almost every weekend during the summer months. She developed a routine of masters swim workouts three mornings a week, cycling rides with Bike Austin and various running and walking groups. She does strength conditioning and yoga almost every day, and believes in the importance of sports massage, acupuncture and chiropractic adjustment.

Raviv signs up for lots of events. Knowing she is registered for a race helps her “get her butt out of bed in the morning” and motivates her to keep training like nothing else. She explained that the routine she developed works for her. It is who she is, something she does daily and does not waver from.

Raviv said her philosophy can be summed up simply, “Sign up, suit up and show up.”

She loves the buzz and enormous energy at triathlons, charity bike rides and runs, the camaraderie, the shouts of encouragement as she is racing, and the people who see her age marked on her calf and tell her that at 68 years old, she is an inspiration.

She loves getting to a triathlon early and searching out the terrified first-timers, reassuring them that they are going to love it, sharing with them that she does a bunch of them every year and that the most important thing is to just have fun.

Raviv qualified and participated in the ITU World Championships in Aquathlon, which took place in Penticton, Canada, in 2017. She has also qualified for numerous USAT National Championships in triathlon.

Miriam is at the JCC almost every single day. She loves the gym, the boot camp style classes, the yoga and pilates, and the masters swim program.

Raviv is involved the Jewish community in Austin and is particularly enthusiastic about JBookFest, the Austin Jewish Film Festival and other Jewish-themed events sponsored by Shalom Austin.

Recently she has attended events through Shorashim L'Chaim, AIPAC, Shalom Austin Jewish Family Service and the Jewish National Fund Breakfast for Israel.

“I would not give this up for anything. I am so, so grateful to be able to be part of this amazing world and hopeful that I"ll be healthy enough—physically and mentally—to keep doing this for years to come,” Raviv said. ■

Shalom Austin resources for adults 55+
Shalom Austin offers a wealth of resources for adults 55 and older. From info for those relocating to Austin, to JFS services and a wealth of programming and classes in fitness and the arts, there’s something for everyone 55+ at shalomaustin.org/adultclasses.

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