By Kathryn White
When I heard Virginia Gonzales’ voice on the other end of the phone, I wondered what kind of news she had for me. I covered Gonzales’ retirement for The Denver North Star back in October 2021.
The long-time Sunnyside businesswoman had just celebrated her retirement from Hair on Earth salon on West 46th Avenue.
Before selling her business, Gonzales had taken up softball for the first time. Her team—the Colorado Peaches—was preparing for its annual trip to compete at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah. And now she was calling with a report on their most recent efforts.
“It was really something! The music and the flags at the opening ceremony of the games, it was quite impressive. Like the Olympics,” Gonzales said.
In October, the Peaches fielded an 80-plus team at the games. And since theirs was the only team in its age group—and the oldest at the games—the Peaches competed against players a decade or two younger. And for that, Gonzales and the Peaches brought home gold.
Caryn Fox exuded enthusiasm much like Gonzales’ when I sat down with her at Vantage Movement, 44th Avenue and Harlan Street, where she runs the Fearless Over 50 cross-fit-style class. Fox, now a personal trainer and fitness instructor, recounted the turning point that got her there. Fox’s kids had gone off to college.
She and her husband looked at each other and said, “Well, it’s up or down.” They decided on up. Not long after, she fell in love with fitness. “I was nearly 200 pounds at 50 years old, and I was in so much pain I could hardly move,” Fox said. “And now here I am at nearly 60, healthier than I’ve been in my whole life, fitter than I’ve been in my whole life. And probably happier than I’ve been in my whole life. If I could get other people to feel this, that would be amazing. That’s my jam.”
Twice a week, Fox guides the Fearless Over 50 group through a structured series of warm-ups and exercises. She checks their form and works through individual issues that come up.
To Fox, “It’s fitness you use for your life. Like flipping those tires. If you need to lift something heavy, a piece of furniture for example, it’s going to be the exact same movement. So much of what we do is designed to be something you can use in your day-today life.”
“Once every couple of weeks one of the 20-, 30- or 40-somethings in here will come up to me and say, ‘I want to be you when I grow up,’” she said.
Maggie McCloskey, now 91, was 77 when she first set out to practice with the Colorado Peaches in 2008. Someone on the team had invited her and she thought to herself, “Well, why not?” McCloskey gets a thrill out of seeing women come back to softball for the first time since perhaps childhood, like she did herself 14 years ago. Or for the first time ever, like many Peaches. The team welcomes and supports all abilities.
“Watching women who haven’t played in 20, 30 years, and coming out, I remember one woman saying, ‘I didn’t know I could still run.’ She was 72,” McCloskey said. “How often do you have to sprint at our age? As someone who has been playing for a while, it’s just such a thrill for me. They are tapping into their childhood again. How often do women just play? And it’s not just about playing a game. It’s about exploring. And realizing there are opportunities to do things you would never think of doing.”
“Like, I box,” continued McCloskey. “It was the last thing I’d ever think of doing. But somebody invited me and I thought, oh sure.”
There’s no shortage of opportunities in North Denver to try something new. Go online to denvergov.org to see what Denver rec centers are offering. Look at the flyers posted in your favorite local shop. Walk in the door at a gym near your house. Ask your friend how they got into tai chi, or running, or pilates, or softball. For Fox, taking that first step, walking in the door at the gym, was the hardest.
“Take a couple of personal training sessions first if that feels right,” she suggests.
And if you’re already involved in something you absolutely love, something that puts a smile on your face and makes you feel better than you have in a long long time, why not invite a friend or neighbor to join you? It just might be the nudge they need.
Kathryn has lived in North Denver since around the time the Mount Carmel High School building was razed and its lot at 3600 Zuni became Anna Marie Sandoval Elementary. She’s raised two children in the neighborhood, worked at several nonprofits, and volunteered with the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter. Do you have story ideas for The Gray Zone? Email Kathryn@DenverNorthStar.com.