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Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - Runner heads for Tennessee Senior Olympics, thanks Y-12’s LiveWise program
   
   Jeff Gates displays the five medals he won in the East District Tennessee Senior Olympics held in March.
   
  Jeff Gates runs on a Y-12 LIFE Center treadmill while discussing with certified athletic trainer Kayla Kroeschen his upcoming participation in the Tennessee Senior Olympics.
Jeff Gates doesn’t let being a senior citizen slow him down. In fact, he’s trying his best to outrun his peers.

In July, fifty-three-year-old Gates will be running in the state finals of the Tennessee Senior Olympics. The Y-12 employee plans to compete in four track races as well as the 5K road race. If he’s among the top four finishers in any of these events, he’ll win a bid to the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland, Ohio.

Years ago Gates ran competitively with the Knoxville Track Club, winning awards in the mid-’90s for his age group. He was also lifting weights and biking to work at the Y-12 National Security Complex, where he had been employed since 1991 as a RADCON technician.

Gates hung up his running shoes in 1999 after a series of family struggles and a variety of health issues began to beleaguer him. He attributed some of his health issues to the aging process but could not explain others. He felt sick and extremely tired for no reason and worried that heart disease might be a factor. After all, both of his parents had died of heart attacks at early ages. During this period of inactivity, he gained 25 pounds.

Because Gates had once worked at Y-12 in areas where beryllium had been used, he decided in 2007 to undergo testing for beryllium sensitivity. He was determined to be borderline beryllium sensitive with lung scarring and began attending Beryllium Support Group of Oak Ridge meetings.

Gates said, “At one of the meetings I decided I was going to do all I could to beat or at least forestall my family history health issues and the beryllium symptoms. I was going to work as hard as needed to keep my lungs clear and my heart ticking like a clock for the rest of my life.” In early 2008, he began watching his diet and using his lunch time at work to walk. He began to lose weight, and his health improved.

Coincidentally, Y-12 was expanding the company’s Health and Wellness Program, which currently offered employees opportunities such as health risk assessments and participation in health and wellness education series and support groups. During this period the program was renamed LiveWise. 

With strong support from Y-12’s President and General Manager Darrel Kohlhorst, $2M from productivity savings was dedicated for building and executing a best-in-class program conducted in onsite facilities with state-of-the-art exercise and physical therapy equipment. Three facilities began to take shape in 2009, and Y-12 began taking bids for providing professional services related to nutrition, athletic training and physical therapy. Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, a Covenant Health subsidiary, won the contract in early 2010.

In June 2010, the first LIFE (Lifestyle Intervention for Employees) Center opened, and two additional centers were up and running within a few months. The centers, staffed entirely by Methodist Medical Center employees, have enjoyed heavy use since opening and average more than 3500 employee visits each month. Services include consultations with a registered dietitian, physical therapy sessions and individualized wellness plans.

When the LIFE Center on the east end of Y-12 opened in August 2010, Jeff Gates was practically waiting at the door. The location’s proximity to where he was currently working and still works as an electrician in Quality Assurance was ideal. He expanded his existing exercise regimen by using the facility’s free weights and treadmill, and he took core fitness classes.

“As my fitness improved, I decided to return to competitive running,” said Gates. In early spring 2012, he ran in the Knoxville Greenways 5K race and won his age group. The Greenways race traditionally gives plants as awards, and Gates’s first-place trophy was a tomato plant. Gates looks forward to enjoying until sometime in October the fruits of his labor.

Gates has had his heart set on a larger prize, though—participating in the 2013 National Senior Games—and in April made the first cut. Though running in a heavy brace on an injured and painful right knee, Gates won three silver and two bronze medals in the East District Tennessee Senior Olympics. All of these finishes qualified for Tennessee Senior Olympics participation in July.

Knowing that his injury could keep him from performing his best at the state games, Gates decided he should see an orthopedic surgeon. Diagnosed with a torn meniscus, Gates had surgery on May 10 to repair it.

Soon Gates was ready to begin “some serious speed training” for the upcoming state-level competition. When he returned to work at the beginning of June, Gates began biking to work again and resumed his training at the East LIFE Center. “I still use the weight room as part of my fitness and training program,” Gates said.

“My knee injury was a setback, but I am optimistic that I will win a few national bids.” If Gates qualifies for the national competition, he will have a full year to continue to recover and train before the national games.

Gates, a member of the Tennessee Air National Guard, has volunteered to represent his squadron in the 5K road race at the Air Force Marathon in September. His squadron is scheduled for deployment to the Middle East later this year. Gates feels that “it will be fun, interesting and challenging to squeeze in my runner’s training for the Senior Olympics while deployed to a very hot and flat area of the world.”

While at Y-12 until his deployment, Gates will continue to work out at Y-12’s East LIFE Center and take advantage of the expertise offered by the athletic trainers and other Methodist Medical Center professionals. “I am immeasurably grateful for the support and encouragement I have received from our company, from my supervision, from the LiveWise Program and from my fellow employees,” said Gates.

Methodist Medical Center employee and certified athletic trainer Kayla Kroeschen has been at the East LIFE Center since it opened. “It’s great to hear how successful Jeff has been at reaching his goals with the help of the LIFE Center and other programs that LiveWise offers,” she said. “I wish him luck at the Tennessee Senior Olympics.”

Gates hopes others can benefit from his story. “If I am successful at the state and national levels,” Gates said, “maybe my success will motivate or inspire a few other people to be more active and to live a healthier lifestyle.”