14:14 PM

A Hunger for Games

Personal training helped octogenarians Jack and Winona Baloga resume an active life of athletic competition

Jack and Winona Baloga of Hazle Township don’t want aches, pains or even surgery to slow them down. “We’ve been active most of our lives,” Jack says. Winona played softball from the 1950s to the 1990s. He was a high school track and field athlete in the 1950s and an avid runner much of his adult life, competing in 13 marathons and countless shorter races. When the couple moved to Pennsylvania in 2001, they soon participated in state Senior Games, five times qualifying for National Senior Games in bowling, golf, and track and field. “We’re now in the 80-to-84 age group,” Jack says. “We want to compete as long as we can.”

Temporarily sidelined

But in 2016, Winona needed shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff. “I needed to get mobilized and functioning again,” she says. She began physical therapy at the Health & Wellness Center at Hazleton to get back in the game – or in her case, Games. “We had to start almost from scratch to rebuild strength, balance and mobility,” says physical therapist Congetta Zola, with the Health & Wellness Center.

Meanwhile, Jack began experiencing hip pain that made running difficult. “Stretching exercises helped, but more was needed,” he says. While accompanying Winona to physical therapy, he started training with a personal trainer at the Fitness Center. “One of my daughters arranged for it. She said to me, ‘Dad, get off the bench.’”

Personal training

After Winona finished physical therapy, she joined Jack. “We’re in the same location as rehabilitation services, which allows us to coordinate with physical therapists,” says exercise physiologist and fitness manager Joseph Stanavage. Twice-weekly individualized programs were challenging and respectful of their limitations. “We get a full-body workout almost every time,” Jack says.

Soon the couple set a new goal – to compete in the Pennsylvania Senior Games in July 2017. Jack took gold in three running events while Winona captured gold in the 1,500-meter race walk and silver in the discus, a sport she’d never tried. “If you do the work, you see results,” Winona says. They’re now eyeing the next National Senior Games in 2019.

“They show that even if you have an injury or surgery, you can recover,” Zola says. “I admire them both. More of us should be that active.”