Blend Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Meet Louise Gooche, a 73-year-old cheerleader from Durham, North Carolina, who’s inspiring elderly people to stay fit and not let age dictate their lives.
“I learned how to do a full split at the ripe, ol’ age of 62,” Gooche told ABC News. “You just keep practicing and start stretching one leg as far as you can, then you work on the other and one day you just sort of notice your legs open up, and there you go!”
Gooche is captain of the Durham Senior Divas ‘N Dude, a cheer squad she founded over 12 years ago to empower elderly people in her community.
It was February 2004, and Gooche had been in remission from colon cancer for just about a year, she said. Gooche had been volunteering with her local YMCA and for the North Carolina Senior Games, which she described as an “Olympics type of event for seniors in the state.”
“I was at a training conference for the games’ ambassadors one night, and they had about three or four seniors performing cheerleading routines,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well we could do this in my hometown.'”
The following day, Gooche said she put a sign-up sheet for a senior cheer team at the Downtown Durham YMCA. Though she was worried she “might be the only senior citizen in all of Durham who wanted to be a cheerleader,” nine women signed up by the end of the day.
Together, the 10 women started the Durham Senior Divas. They performed their first routine at a senior citizen holiday party sponsored by Durham’s Parks and Recreation Department. Since then, the group has grown in size and become more competitive.
The Divas started competing in the North Carolina Senior Games in 2005, Gooche said. The girls won a bronze medal that year.
“We were happy, but you know, we knew we had to push this up a notch, and so we kept working and working,” Gooche said. “A bronze medal became silver, and silver became gold, and it’s been that way ever since.”
The Divas now have eight North Carolina Senior Games gold medals, and they’ve come out on top for the past five consecutive years.
Much has changed since the team was first started — the Divas have since recruited a man to the team, and the group now has 15 active members ranging in age from 62 to 78 — but the team has continued to inspire the community.
“We love the Divas at the Durham YMCA,” said Forrest Perry, branch executive director of the Durham YMCAs.
“The Durham Divas embody the importance of staying active and healthy, regardless of your age,” Perry told ABC News in a statement. “We’re proud of the example they set for seniors and people of all ages, and we’re honored to be able to partner with them to share the importance of being active.”
Gooche told ABC News that the Divas ‘N Dude “have never been ones to let age stop us. Oh heavens, no.”
She added that she understands many seniors feel limited by certain conditions and ailments they have, but her advice to them is to “just move what you can on a regular, daily basis.”
“A lot of people are surprised when they find that just a little movement can help alleviate some of the discomforts that come with their conditions,” she said. “And you know, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”
Gooche said she has no plans on slowing down yet and said she’s hoping she might be able to fulfill one last thing on her bucket list.
“Don’t tell my son, but I’ve always wanted to learn how to drive a motorcycle,” she said. “They do have motorcycle classes in my area. I wouldn’t get out on an interstate or anything, but you know, just drive around the neighborhood.
“I might do it, who knows?” she added with a laugh.
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