After decades of challenging themselves through workouts and sports, these local seniors are still going strong. Here, they share stories of endurance that led them to health and happiness in their golden years.
Jean Casteel, The Willows
For as long as Jean Casteel can remember, she has been in the water every day. That’s almost a century of swimming, as she celebrated her milestone 100th birthday last Fourth of July.
The St. Louis native remembers swimming with the current of the Meramec River like it was yesterday. Each summer day outside her family’s clubhouse in Eureka, Casteel and her four siblings loved spending their time swimming in the river. And Casteel became such a skilled swimmer at a young age, she once even saved the life of a fellow child who was struggling in the water.
As Casteel grew up, she always made sure she lived near a pool or the ocean. “I like the exercise, and the water is soothing to your body,” she says. While spending a decade in Florida during her late 80s, she was recognized for her superior swimming abilities, winning two local Senior Olympic competitions.
Back in St. Louis for the past decade, Casteel takes her strokes across the Olympic-size pool at The Willows. “I swim every day,” she says. “I’m always in the water.” And that’s really the key to living to be 100, she notes. “Hang in there, be patient—and swim a lot.”
Ed Coombs, Friendship Village-Sunset Hills
More than 20 years of working a desk job at local newspapers left Ed Coombs out of shape. “I had no stamina, zip or energy,” he says. So upon his retirement in 1981, he decided to make a change: He took up swimming and cycling, among other sports.
Now at 92, he’s healthier than ever—earning gold medals in swimming and cycling at the St. Louis Senior Olympics last May. A former editor on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch copy desk and a World War II Navy veteran, Coombs says his son encouraged him to test his athletic talents in the games. His family was there to cheer him on as he medaled twice—after swimming a lap at the Jewish Community Center in Chesterfield and cycling a mile at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area.
As a dedicated athlete, Coombs urges fellow residents at Friendship Village-Sunset Hills to stay active in the onsite wellness program—so they don’t become “couch potatoes.” He emphasizes a weekly workout routine is very important—especially those exercises prescribed by your doctor. “Every Monday and Thursday, I swim 10 laps, and I try to get more people to swim. Many of their doctors recommend they walk around in the water for half an hour. If they’ll stick with it and keep walking, they’ll feel better.”
Coombs also rides his mountain bike around Friendship Village’s campus, as well as Forest Park, Tower Grove Park and Carondelet Park. “I might enter the (Senior Olympics) again next May.”
Frances Brownstein, The Gatesworth
Frances Brownstein gets up in the morning, puts on her bathing suit and warmups, eats breakfast and heads to the pool. She’s 91.
A lifelong ‘fish,’ The Gatesworth resident is a former early childhood teacher of the Jewish Community Center. “I worked half days in the mornings, then I would go swimming there in the afternoons,” Brownstein says. Her love of swimming intensified when she retired at the age of 85. “I was concerned about what I was going to do once I couldn’t drive anymore, so I took up swimming,” she explains. “The pool at The Gatesworth is what sold me on coming here.”
There, Brownstein can indulge her passion for water aerobics as often as she likes, which often means logging laps for 40-minute sessions. But she notes that it’s just for fun and fitness, not for competition. “Swimming is what keeps me going,” she says. “It’s also very relaxing. I do it for me.”
And Brownstein advises others to keep moving, as well. “Your kids may tell you to take it easy, but it’s very important to keep going.”