White Coat, Black Art·First person

How daily walks help this B.C. woman, 97, take the pandemic in stride

For Sheila White, a 97-year-old resident of Summerland, B.C., daily walks have provided the exercise and social interaction she’s needed to keep mind and body healthy during the pandemic.

‘You accept you’re getting older, but you can still do many things,’ says Sheila White

'My top 5 tips for building mental resilience': Sheila White, 97

White Coat Black Art from CBC Radio

2 months ago
The B.C. resident stays active and connected to her community throughout the pandemic. 4:47

This is a story from White Coat, Black Art's series called Prescription for Resilience: Coping with COVID on the many challenges people are facing during the pandemic, and what they're doing to find resilience.

At 97, Sheila White has lived an extraordinarily full life before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. A wireless operator in the Second World War, White has been an educator, town councillor and environmentalist, and was honoured as 2019 Citizen of the Year in her long-time hometown of Summerland, B.C.

Living on the shore of Lake Okanagan has been a real asset in helping White stay healthy and connected to her community throughout the pandemic — the gorgeous landscape provides her with a perfect reason to get outside for walks.

White shared her story with White Coat, Black Art. Here is part of the conversation.

When I was at university, [I was a member of] the outdoor club. And ever since, I've always liked going hiking and climbing mountains.

Between the hiking and the biking that I did, I think probably I built up my leg muscles fairly well and that's been good.

I also have two new knees, which has been very, very helpful. I've had them 17 years now.

My daughter in Vancouver gave me a new [Fitbit] for Christmas. I have been wearing it most of the time.

White uses her Fitbit to keep track of how many steps she's taken during her walks. (Curtis Allen)

I'm quite amazed sometimes at how many steps I take. They set it beginning at 3,000, but 3,000 isn't very many, so I like to do around five or 6,000 and, on a long day, up to maybe 12,000 steps.

Out front there's a long lawn that leads down to the beach and the view across the lake to Naramata on the other side, where my son lives.

There are not the orchards here that there used to be, but it's a semi-rural area. There are neighbours, but it's not crowded at all. Everybody has gardens. In the wintertime, the bare trees are beautiful, and there are evergreens to see in the spring, summer and fall. The mountains and hills and gardens are always there, they change every day.

Walking allows connection to her community

When I'm walking, sometimes I just think about my family or the latest news. If I'm upset about something or other, maybe political, I compose letters that I think should be written, but I don't usually write them.

White says walking makes her feel better. Pictured bottom: White with her family in January 2014. (Submitted by White family)

Walking makes me feel better, being outside in the fresh air, moving and keeping yourself going. Some days I feel more energetic than others, but my longer walk is about three kilometres, and the shorter walk probably just over one kilometre.

It's a very friendly neighbourhood that I live in, and we chat as we pass each other walking. The families are out, kids on bikes, which is very nice to see.

Keeping busy at home — by reading 3 books at once

COVID-19 hasn't changed a whole lot for me because I'm busy enough at home.

I've got cooking to do, cleaning to do, washing, crossword puzzles to do, books to read — about three at a time, one by my bed, one for the throne and one that I'm reading all the time. 

White and her son-in-law Eric Titely do a crossword puzzle together over the Christmas holidays in 2020. (Submitted by the White family)

You do the best you can with what you have, and just keep a regular routine of something to do every day, things to look forward to. My family has been very good at keeping in touch and helping out.

Unfortunately, I can't play bridge or go to gatherings. And I miss going to church and singing with the choir. Also just dropping in, having people come and go. I just have to do it by phone and outside when I'm walking.

In my life, I had a lot of interesting occupations. I enjoyed all of them. I was stationed on the East Coast during the war, in Cape Breton, on an airfield there. Then I went back to university and got my degrees, teaching in Penticton ... then Prince Rupert.

From left to right: White as an avid hiker, serving as a wireless operator in the Second World War, and with her husband. (Submitted by the White family)

When I married, we moved to Summerland. I was on town council, I was on the health board and on the regional library board, too. I learned such a lot and met so many great people. My late 50s, 60s and early 70s — that time was a wonderful transition because it kept me busy.

With COVID-19, each person's case is different, but it's important to have something to look forward to, and to do all you can, making sure, of course, that you're safe. The things that you can do may be different from what you used to do, but there's always something to do, or something to think about.

You accept you're getting older, but you can still do many things. My hearing isn't the greatest, and my eyes aren't quite as good as they used to be, but I have enough so that I can still enjoy many things. I am very appreciative of that.

Written by Paul Gallant. Produced by Sujata Berry

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