Meet the 2017 Swanson Award Winner!

By Barbara Brody |

Barbara McGirr, 66, isn’t slowing down with age. She’s getting healthier every day—and inspiring others to do the same.

As many people approach retirement, they start slowing down. Barbara McGirr is not one of those people.

Barb has always been somewhat active. But about five years ago, as her career as a behavioral health care nurse was winding down, she realized it was time to take exercise more seriously.

“My father had a lot of heart trouble—including six bypasses, open heart surgery, and a heart attack—and it all kind of started in his late 50s,” she says. Determined not to follow in his footsteps, she began seeing a cardiologist for monitoring and resolved to kick her activity level up a notch.

“I was already walking a lot and had done a few 5Ks, but I wanted to try running more,” Barb says. “A psychiatrist I was working with—I used to manage a child and adolescent psychiatric practice—happened to be a runner, so I told her that I’d love to run a half-marathon by the time I turn 62.”

Barb’s coworker helped her craft a plan to reach that goal within six months. “She broke it down for me, day by day, and I worked my way up to 13 miles. At age 62, I finished the race in three hours,” she says. “I’m pretty proud of that.”

When other people tell Barb that they could never do what she does, she doesn’t think they’re being honest with themselves. Sure, it takes physical strength and stamina to become a runner. “But it’s mostly a mental game,” she says. “You have to tell yourself, ‘I don’t think I can do it—I know I can.’”

Barb recently retired from nursing, but not from fitness. She still runs, and with more free time, she’s also using her SilverSneakers membership to explore new activities at her gym, LA Fitness in Centerville, Ohio.

She does yoga twice a week and is learning how to use the weight equipment, thanks to the help of a trainer she meets with weekly. “I already have a lot of lower leg strength, but my arms aren’t as strong. He’s got me building some biceps!

“I also want to build up my core strength to keep steady as I get older,” she adds. “Since I’ve retired, I think that I look at aging differently. And now that I see all the different opportunities that I have, I don’t want to slow down.”

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Barb’s Mission: Spreading Wellness

As much as Barb has accomplished with respect to her own body, what really makes her deserving of this year’s Swanson Award is her dedication to motivating and helping others. The Richard L. Swanson Inspiration Award, now in its 13th year, honors a SilverSneakers member who is not only dedicated to personal health and well-being but who also serves as an inspiration for others.

For Barb, that role starts with her husband, a cardiac survivor who entered retirement shortly before she did. “In the past year, he’s walked two 5Ks and goes to the gym with me a few times a week,” she says. “I’ve become his cheerleader.”

Barb has also encouraged several former coworkers to become more active. “A lot of them are now doing 5Ks,” she notes.

Barb’s cardiologist, Harvey Hahn, M.D., describes her as the “poster child” for getting fit and inspiring others. “She’s a really positive, fun, energetic person,” says Dr. Hahn, a physician with Southwest Cardiology and director of the cardiovascular fellowship training program at Kettering Medical Center in Ohio. “She actually gets other people to come out of their houses and run with her.

“I thank her for being an inspiration to me and for inspiring other people in the community to get healthier.”

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