Not your average LOWVELO team: Retirees prove wellness can be found at any age

September 18, 2023
portrait of LOWVELO participant Peter McKinney gazing into the camera, arms propped onto the side of the pool
Peter McKinney is one of the residents of South Bay at Mount Pleasant raising money for cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center through LOWVELO. Photo by Clif Rhodes

It’s not your average LOWVELO bike ride team. There are no bicycle shorts. There are no helmets. There are not even any road bikes. The average age? Somewhere between 80 and 90 years old – proof that wellness can be found at any stage of life. And as if that weren’t impressive enough, the South Bay at Mount Pleasant team is currently in third place out of all LOWVELO23 teams for the most money raised. To date, they have banked $13,469 for lifesaving cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.

Sixteen residents have caused quite a buzz in the halls of the South Bay at Mount Pleasant retirement community. They have joined forces and made a commitment to exercise through ride day on Nov. 4. Some are lacing up their shoes and walking. Some are getting in swimsuits and doing laps or water walking. Some are cycling on stationary bikes. But all members of this team have united for one goal – to stay active and do it for a good cause.

“I want to do the best I can,” said Peter McKinney. “I view this not just as a thing to use to raise money but as an exercise in physical fitness and giving. My job, my task, my role at this point in my life is to give what I have to others.”

McKinney is a spry 90-year-old who gets in the pool at the South Bay Wellness Center many days a week to get in his water walking laps – about a half-mile's worth.

“I didn't used to do that much,” said McKinney. “I would be active on the bicycle or sometimes the treadmill and certainly group work and yoga and other activities that are physical, but this one – this one is all about water walking. And I love doing it.”

For other members of the team, the cause is a little more personal. Patricia Goodman spent much of her life in New York City, where she was the director of social work for the National Cancer Institute-designated NYU Langone Health Perlmutter Cancer Center. After retiring, she moved to Beaufort where she lived for about 25 years. And then one day, her world changed. Goodman was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that advances slowly. CLL is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults and often occurs during or after middle age.

portrait of Patricia Goodman cancer survivor and LOWVELO fundraiser for Hollings Cancer Center 
Patricia Goodman has lost three generations of family members to cancer. She's now raising money for cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Photo by Clif Rhodes

As someone who had worked in an NCI-designated cancer center, she knew that that was what she needed for her own care. And so, she started making the trek from Beaufort to Hollings, the only NCI-designated cancer center in South Carolina, for her treatment.

“It was a little over two hours, and my cancer got me so fatigued, the trip became extremely difficult,” said Goodman.

When her house became too much to handle as well, Goodman realized it was time to be closer to Hollings and to her daughter who lives in North Charleston. She’s now been living in the Charleston area for five years and makes monthly visits to Hollings for her infusions.

Most days, Goodman walks for an hour, and typically gets in 3 to 3 1/2 miles. She’s committed to walking 78 miles to raise money for LOWVELO before Nov. 4 but is already well ahead of that goal. It’s a goal she set for two big reasons.

“Because I have had such fantastic treatment at Hollings,” said Goodman. “When I first met my current team, including Brian Hess, M.D., I was practically nonfunctional, and now I play pickleball. I can walk 70-something miles. I take exercise classes. I’m very active. My life is good.”

The other reason is because Goodman has three generations of family members who have died from cancer and believes that if they were still alive now, there may be research that could have saved their lives.

She also tries to serve as a positive example for others who get a cancer diagnosis and urges anyone going through what she has to look at the positives and ask for help when it’s needed.

“What I say to them is ‘Don’t be so scared,’” said Goodman. “The question isn't what your diagnosis is. The question is how functional can your doctor keep you? And if your doctor can keep you functional, so what? Look at the cancer not as horrible, terrible and awful but as inconvenient. Don’t let it get you down because there's a lot of good stuff going on.”

group photo of South Bay residents who are fundraising for Hollings Cancer Center 
Members of the South Bay at Mount Pleasant LOWVELO team. Photo by Kristin Lee

Fellow South Bay resident, Louise Ruch, a proud retired public schoolteacher, also has a personal reason for participating in LOWVELO. Fourteen years ago, she lost her husband to a melanoma that developed on the bottom of his foot.

“So, if you go for a body check, please remember that you need to have the bottom of your feet looked at,” said Ruch. “It’s not always from sun. It can be genetic.”

Ruch had four years with her husband after his diagnosis and they used as much of the time when he was feeling well to travel and spend time together. Her advice to other caregivers?

“Take good care of that person. Love that person and treat that person as much as possible to a normal life. Do the things you would normally do. Just live your life and enjoy what you have and the time you have.”

One of the reasons Ruch has committed to water walking and swimming laps for LOWVELO is to honor the sacrifices her husband made – as a patient, he took part in melanoma research.

“What my husband put himself through for it may have helped in the research and providing medication for melanoma,” she said. “We haven't conquered this disease yet, and we must do everything we can to continue to research and find answers.”

portrait of Louise Ruch, whose husband died from melanoma 
Louise Ruch's husband participated in cancer research after he was diagnosed with melanoma. She wants to raise money to enable more research to find answers for tomorrow's cancer patients. Photo by Clif Rhodes

Aside from teaming up to raise funds for lifesaving cancer research, what McKinney, Goodman and Ruch all have in common is a firm belief that this kind of fitness can be for anyone of any age.

“I think we on the team realize that in order to be attractive, you got to be active,” said McKinney with a chuckle. “They go together. And there's a place for you on the team, even if you don't think you have any talent; we think you do – and we'll find it, and we'll use it.”