South Mississippians stay 'young a very long time'

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDGini Fellows relaxes ather home in Windance in Gulfport.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDGini Fellows relaxes ather home in Windance in Gulfport.

What is a senior adult?

Today's seniors often are "senior" in number of years on Earth but not in outlook. Here are two South Mississippians who fit that description.

Gini Fellows

If you're looking for Gini Fellows of Gulfport, try the swimming lanes at the e-Fitness pool or on one of her favorite running routes. At Tulane in Biloxi, she teaches once a week on nutrition and addictive behaviors.

"I don't like that term 'senior,'" she said. "I prefer to say, 'You've been young a very long time.'"

Fellows enjoys swimming, biking, running, kayaking, yoga and paddle boarding and yolo boarding. Her and her husband's neighborhood has a 100-acre lake, and that's where she practices much of her water sports. She's a member of the Gulf Coast Running Club and a triathlon club called the Ticking Tri-Bombs. Yes, triathlons. Getting involved in the swimming, running and biking race wasn't on her retirement years to-do list, but her son, who trains athletes, encouraged her to try running races, and it went from there.

"I always tried to do some exercise, but I didn't compete until nine years ago. I was rehabbing from knee surgery, and my son suggested I do a super sprint when I got healed up," she said. She did that, followed up with other races, then triathlons -- and then came the suggestion of an Ironman competition.

"I've done three, half Iron Mans," she said. "In the first one, I broke the chain on my bike but I got it fixed enough to finish."

If it sounds daunting -- 70.3 miles broken into 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of biking and 13.1 miles of running -- Fellows offers this.

"People don't understand. You don't have to go all out, just finish," she said.

She gets encouragement from members of the Ticking Tri-Bombs.

"It has a lot of young folks in their 30s, 40s. They encourage me to do things, I think I can't do. They get me motivated," she said. "My son trains me in all my events. He writes down what he wants me to do, and I just do it."

Exercising and staying healthy continues to be a regular part of her life.

"It's become a lifestyle norm for me," she said. "Even if I couldn't run or do triathlons, I would still have to do something."

She urges others to do the same.

"Even if you just get outside for 20 minutes, 30 minutes three times a week," she said. "Walking is the least stressful activity for everybody. Getting outside in the sunshine is one of the most gratifying things. It's a great mood elevator. There are a lot of days I don't want to go outside, but once I get into that walk, I'm good. Weight-bearing exercise is always good, too. Yoga is a great thing for older people. And you don't have to go to the gym to be active. There are plenty of parks on the Coast that are great for walking, and there are 26 miles of beach plus the boardwalk.

Meanwhile, Fellows is preparing for another Ironman, this one in Florida in the fall.

"I'll be 69, 70 when I do that one," she said.

Myron Labat

Myron Labat lives about two blocks from the beach in Bay St. Louis.

"I ride my bike practically every day," he said. "I love cycling. I probably ride five, six days a week. Lately, I've increased my mileage. Last year I cycled around 4,700 miles -- nothing too taxing. This year, I'm aiming for 5,000."

He's president of the Bay Rollers cycling club, which has made trips to New Orleans, Jackson, Hattiesburg and Mobile, often raising money for charity. On his on rides, he tries to stick to back roads for safety. He's also "an avid tennis player" who now plays strictly for fun and a former tennis coach.

Labat is president of the Hancock Medical Foundation Board and on the Bay St. Louis planning and zoning committee.

His biggest role in retirement probably is as a volunteer for CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates. The organization is made up of trained and supervised advocates for abused or neglected children who represent the children in court situations.

"It's very rewarding when you can make a difference in the life of a kid who wouldn't have a chance otherwise," he said.

In 2013, one month before Labat retired from his job as an administrator in the Bay-Waveland School District, Cindy Chauvin spoke to district educators about CASA.

"She was passionate and knowledgeable, and she convinced me on the spot it was something I needed to do. I started while I was still on the school payroll," he said. As an advocate, he get assigned a child or children by his CASA supervisor.

"I'm the voice for that child in court. Usually the child is not present during the proceedings. I speak to the judge and the attorneys and relay that child's wishes to the judge. I also visit the child at home and at school and keep a close check on them -- their grades, their behavior and their relationships, and how they're getting along in their current placement," he said.

It seems a perfect fit for the educator who was in administration for 14 years, the last two of which were at an alternative school.

"I recruit when and where I can," he said with a smile. "I recruit pretty hard."

Beyond CASA, children continue to be a big part of his life.

"Of course, I'm also Paw Paw's Taxi Service," he said with a grin, referring to his grandchildren.

Labat has been cycling since 2013, when he had meniscus surgery.

"I had a long rehab for my knee," he said. "I found out that one of the best things I could do was pedal a bicycle to strengthen my knee and my leg. The more I did it, the more I could see progress, but I also was enjoying it."

He and several friends formed the Bay Rollers a few years ago to enjoy rides together. The members pay monthly dues and raise money with the goal to have enough to buy bicycles for local children at Christmas. In the past two years, they have bought 77 bikes for children, who then are taught the safety rules of the road.

Both Fellows and Labat had advice for people their age.

"Each day is a gift. So do something and make something of that day," Fellows said.

"Way too often I heard people say they don't want to retire and be bored. I have never been bored a day of my life," Labat said. "Each day I plans of what I want to get accomplished that day. I don't always, but I will complete the items on that list, in time. If you spend time looking for opportunities to help others, there is no way you'll be bored. This community has given me a lot. A good living and a decent retirement. I feel obligated to give back, and hopefully, everyone else will do the same."

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