Dreaming Big

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Founded in 1992, SilverSneakers  is the nation’s leading community fitness program for older Americans, giving members “unlimited access to more than 14,000 fitness and wellness locations across the country.” The award, according to their website, “honors a SilverSneakers member who has improved his or her own life through a healthy lifestyle that incorporates physical activity while inspiring and motivating others along the way.” Solankee knew it had Anderson’s name written all over it. Sure enough, later that month, Anderson was selected as one of the top 10 finalists in the nation and the only finalist from Texas. But that’s not even the most remarkable part — Anderson is also 73 years old and fully deaf.

Between the ages of four and seven years old, Anderson’s parents noticed she was struggling in school, but they thought it was simply because she wasn’t paying attention. However, one of her teachers urged her parents to have her hearing checked, and soon after going to the doctor, Anderson had her first hearing aid at age seven.

“The first sound I heard was my mom’s high heels in the hospital, ‘Clip, clop, clip, clop, clip, clop,’” Anderson says. “Also, going out the door…you could hear all the cars and trucks go by, ‘Beep, boop, screech’ — all the noise. At the deaf school, I learned the sound of birds.”

Growing up with a father in the Air Force, Anderson and her family moved all over the country, with Anderson bouncing between six public schools and three deaf schools, beginning at the Nebraska School for the Deaf, where she learned the basic signs, and later attending the Maryland School for the Deaf and the Indiana School for the Deaf. Since no one in her family ever learned sign language, Anderson says traveling is how she kept her voice going over the years. After spending just a few minutes with her, it’s clear to anyone that Anderson loves to talk, and she’s never afraid to strike up a conversation with anyone. Even traveling internationally, Anderson sees no barriers between languages.

“When we were young, we traveled a lot,” Anderson says. “We’ve been in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, and they’re beautiful countries, and my mother gets jealous of me because I can easily talk to anybody without knowing their name. I made gestures. I learned some German. I’ve even learned Spanish — ¿Cómo estás? Buenos días! See? There’s no limit.”

While Anderson was never hindered by language barriers, she explains that sign language is not universal. Different countries and regions have their own variations of sign language, so there is no “standard” form. Anderson says this is why she teaches. By age 30, Anderson became fully deaf, and after losing a job of 17 years, Anderson had to take a step back and think about what she wanted to do with her life. So, she began teaching at Round Rock High School in 1992, and after a friend of hers suggested that she start her own teaching business, Anderson began teaching from home in 1993. Today, 26 years later, Anderson is still teaching, and she still loves it. In fact, two of her students have already gone on to become interpreters in public schools, while her younger students are continuing to work toward certification.

“The moms tell me, ‘If it wasn’t for you, they would not have done that.’ I motivate the kids,” Anderson says. “I tell them, ‘Look, I may be deaf, but you will probably have a dual career, working with deaf kids and working with hearing kids.’”

Anyone who knows Anderson can attest to the fact that she is motivating, optimistic and inspiring, and these characteristics don’t just hold true for her in the classroom. After hearing about her incredible fitness journey, it becomes clear that Anderson carries these qualities into every realm of her life.

Beginning in 2009, Anderson started having some health problems. She contracted MRSA, a strain of the common staph bacteria, leaving her with an infection on the back of her leg that took a year to heal. Later that same year, Anderson also found out she was a diabetic — a battle she continues to fight today. Then, in 2018, Anderson began needing the assistance of a walker. With what seemed like a whirlwind of health issues, Anderson knew she needed to make a change if she wanted to live the long, healthy life she dreamed of.

“My grandmother was 74, and she passed away when she was 74. My mom passed away at 74,” Anderson says. “I’m 73 — I’ve got one more year. I don’t want to go — I’m not ready for that. I asked the Lord, ‘Let me live to 100.’”

In comes Curves, a fitness center for women. In May 2018, Anderson began working out at Curves Wells Branch, a participating fitness studio with the SilverSneakers program, and within just two to three months of joining, Anderson was able to put away the walker — a milestone that only motivated her to keep going back. Since beginning her fitness journey, Anderson has lost over 20 pounds, but that definitely didn’t come without determination and a lot of positivity.

“You have to be strong. Life’s challenging. It doesn’t matter how old you are,” Anderson says.

Over the past year, Anderson has fallen in love with the community, the coaches and the new, healthy lifestyle she’s found through fitness. Exercising three to four times a week, Anderson says she plans to come to Curves and remain active for as long as she can. Decked out in a Curves t-shirt and hat, she is a self-proclaimed ambassador.

“She encourages whoever she meets to come to Curves, whether at the grocery store, pharmacy or anywhere else,” Solankee says in her nomination letter. “Faithfully, she checks in her location on Facebook before every workout. This way, everyone knows and can be motivated by her example.”

After witnessing her health transformation and watching her become such an influential member of the Curves sisterhood, Solankee knew Anderson would be the perfect candidate for the SilverSneakers Swanson Award. With an infectious joy for life and an overwhelming positivity, Anderson sees no limits when it comes to being deaf.

“Even though she cannot hear the music we play, she makes up her own music and beat inside her while working out,” Solankee says. “When we get tired of the same songs playing, she laughs and suggests we do it like her.”

Sure enough, after spending just a few minutes with Anderson, she’s eager to demonstrate.

“Up, down, up, down, up, down,” Anderson sings as she lifts and lowers her weights.

With this kind of charisma for fitness, it’s no surprise Anderson was chosen as one of the top 10 finalists for the Swanson Award. As the only Texan and the only deaf person among the finalists, she was ecstatic when she heard the news back in May.

“I never thought that this would happen,” Anderson says. “All I wanted was to get rid of the walker… That was all I had ever dreamed. I never dreamed it would be this big.”

Regardless of the obstacles she continues to face, Anderson holds fast to the positivity and enthusiasm she had at the beginning of her fitness journey. With a testimony like hers, she firmly believes that anything is possible.

“Never give up on anything you dream about. I never expected this to happen to me in this life,” Anderson says. “…There are so many things in life you can do. Don’t give up your dreams.”

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