Carol Waddell and Gladys Mixon, who both recently won awards in the 2015 Georgia Golden Olympics, are both breast cancer survivors
Each Thursday after Carol Waddell received radiation – a treatment she underwent daily for months – she’d celebrate her healing process in one of her favorite places: the ball field.
Waddell, 64, is a born athlete and throughout her life has excelled in and also coached several sports. So when she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer on April 29, 2014, it wasn’t much of a stretch that exercise and physical activity became part of her therapeutic healing ritual.
“She was undergoing treatments every day, but every Thursday, she’d be out there playing softball with all the men,” said Tammy Bryant, special populations coordinator at Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation. “She was such an inspiration and I admire her so much – all the men would say, ‘She’s no hair, all heart.’”
“I was receiving radiation – a double dose of it – because I was receiving the radiation on both breasts,” Waddell explained. “And the men who were playing there were just super. They just really encouraged me and they really lifted me up and made me feel welcome.”
It was during last fall’s 60 & Over softball season, that Gordon Haney, 90, brought awards he’d won during the previous year’s Georgia Golden Olympics to show his teammates. To say Waddell became excited about the annual sporting events is an understatement.
Waddell’s excitement over the Golden Olympics grew into determination. She told her close friend and workout buddy, Gladys Mixon, 63 – who is also a breast cancer survivor – that the two women would go together and compete.
“She told me, ‘We’re going to do this,’” Mixon said, “and she started naming all these categories she was going to enter and I said, ‘Um… I don’t know if I can do that, but I can come and cheer you on.”
An Olympic Adventure
Unwavering that her friend would also compete, Waddell encouraged Mixon to try, just as Mixon had encouraged her throughout her battle with breast cancer.
“It was real important that Gladys went with me,” Waddell said. “She supported me a lot to help me get through my cancer last summer.”
The two friends travelled to Warner Robbins from Sept. 16-19, where they competed in several events. Mixon, an avid walker, found that though she didn’t consider herself as athletic as Waddell, she could participate in walking events.
Mixon won gold medals in the 1,500 Meter Walk, the 5K Walk and a silver Medal in Shuffleboard. Waddell won gold medals in Basketball Free Throws, Table Tennis, 5000 Meter Race Walk and Clock Golf and silver medals in Badminton, Softball Throw, Horseshoes, Shot Put and Javelin. Along with Luke Studdard and Gordon Haney, the Floyd County residents who participated brought home 18 medals, collectively.
“I just had such a good time,” said Mixon, who plans to compete again next year. “Everyone was really friendly. You talked to people you were going to be in an event with, and even though they were going to be your competition, nobody was ugly or hateful. They would even give you pointers.”
Waddell described her experience at the Golden Olympics as “uplifting.”
“The Olympics were tremendous fun,” Waddell said. “There were some other people down there who had fought cancer once and the cancer had come back and they were in the process of fighting it now. And they were out there working just like everyone else. It was a tremendous opportunity to meet so many people and to see so many people in their 80s and their 90s who were still competing.”
But Waddell also encourages other seniors to compete along with her and Mixon next year – and hopefully go to nationals.
“These Olympics have existed in Georgia for 33 years; for 17 years they’ve been in Warner Robbins,” she said. “Anyone who’s 50 years old and older is eligible to compete. Those that compete next year, if they do well, will go to the national games which will be held in Birmingham, Alabama in 2017.”
The key to survival
Mixon fought breast cancer four years ago, and said she truly believes having been physically active throughout her life helped with her quick recovery.
“I have been walking since 1985; I have walked every day,” she said. “I work out regularly, but I have walked forever.”
After she had her lumpectomy and chemotherapy, Mixon got up and started walking when she was well enough.
“A week after I finished chemo, I started walking again and was able to do two miles the first day. And I think the walking helped me heal better and helped me overall. I think it’s very healthy for you to stay in shape and exercise,” she said.
Having both gone to high school together, Mixon said that she and Waddell had lost touch over the years. It was when Waddell was going through her treatments that she and Mixon reconnected as friends, and the two women began walking together.
“I think that helped her to heal better,” Mixon said of Waddell. “She said I kept her going through her treatments. I tried to be real positive about it. I think that’s one of the best ways to deal with it – you have to keep a positive attitude.”
Mixon encouraged other seniors to try and stay physically in shape, in order to help fight cancer and other illnesses.
“I see people who have a hard time with (cancer), but they’re not in shape, physically,” Mixon said.” I think anyone who’s in shape can get through any illness more quickly. Just because you’ve had cancer, you can’t quit. You have to just keep on keeping on.”