Word to the Wise

Lakeland Octogenarian Shares How Structure, Fitness Have Factored Into His Golden Years


Who doesn’t want to live a long, healthy, and happy life? There’s no one formula that fits every lifestyle, so Central Florida Health News asked Lakeland octogenarian athlete Gordon “Cork” Wilson to spill the beans on his secret to a long and healthy life.


Wilson, who turns 87 in April, recently participated in the Polk Senior Games, an annual event that is open to anyone 50 and older. The Olympic-style competitions span two weeks at various locations throughout Polk County. Twenty athletic competitions were offered this year from February 26 through March 12, with gold, silver, and bronze medals awarded for each in various age brackets. 


Wilson participated in several of this year’s events. He had been playing tennis in the Polk Senior Games for several years, as well as doing the bench press and powerlifting a couple of times. This year he added some track and field events to his lineup. Wilson enjoys tennis and has been playing with other seniors in Lakeland for years. His tennis friends had suggested that he join them in the Polk Senior Games, and so began his involvement in the annual competitions. 


“For the last 20 years, I’ve been participating in gym activities, both aerobics classes and muscle conditioning, so I’m in pretty good shape physically,” Wilson says. “About three years ago, I got a gold medal in the bench press, and two years ago a silver medal in the bench press.”


This year, Wilson competed in the 50-meter, 100-meter, and 200-meter track events, earning two gold medals and one silver. He also did the high jump and the long jump, scoring gold in both events for the upper 80s age bracket.


“It’s a pretty professionally run, very well organized and managed event,” Wilson says.  “It’s fun to get involved with.”


He was raised in a small town in Michigan, served for four years in the Navy, and attended Michigan Technological University for electrical engineering on the GI Bill. Wilson spent his career working in computer engineering, management, and systems programming.


“During my career, it wasn’t a lot of physical work,” he recalls. “I wasn’t in that good of shape; I was overweight, not well muscle-developed. When I retired, I started getting involved in gyms – aerobics classes and muscle conditioning. I’ve been doing that for 20-some years.”


Wilson retired at age 64, took a year off, then returned to working as a computer tech in a school district for about six years. He has been fully retired since 2006. He and his wife started coming to Florida each year as snowbirds, wintering in Lakeland from 2006 until 2016. Then about three years ago, they moved here permanently. 


Tobacco use is one unhealthy habit that Wilson always made sure to avoid. 


“When I was about 11 years old, my dad said, ‘If you’re going to smoke, smoke in front of me, don’t go out behind the barn.’ And I thought, ‘What’s the fun in that?’ I never smoked after that.”


He does, however, drink a 6-ounce glass of red wine daily with dinner.


When it comes to his health, Wilson believes in a proactive approach. He does his research to educate himself on his body and health, and he supplements his diet with appropriate vitamins and herbs. 


“I try to keep my weight under control,” he explains. “When I first retired, I was probably 20-25 pounds overweight. Now I’m pretty close to normal. My BMI is just a hair above 25, and I’m trying to get that down just a little bit now.” A BMI (body mass index) is considered normal and healthy when it is between 18.5 and 24.9. 


While Wilson isn’t one to tell other people how to live their lives, he doesn’t mind sharing his success with others hoping to be as happy and healthy well into their 80s. 


“If I were to give advice, I would say, ‘Get involved with a gym, a YMCA, something like that.’ I think it would have been good if I had gotten involved in the gym activities a lot earlier in my life, but better late than never.” 


Wilson believes that as someone ages, and especially upon retiring, it’s important to have some structure in their life. 


“I think for someone that’s retired, to have a structured routine makes you feel part of the system, instead of floating,” he relates. 


“My wife and I have this routine, and it kind of helps me. I know when I first retired, things were so unstructured that I didn’t feel comfortable. You kind of feel unplugged from society. Now, what we do is every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I play tennis in the morning. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I go to the gym. That gives me structure.”

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