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Wheels to Medals: Meet MS Survivor and Gold Medalist Eleanor Pendergraft

A graphical image with medal and runner graphics, a Because Market logo and a picture of Eleanor Pendergraft.

Kara Miller |

Because Market is proud to be sponsoring six incredible women at this year's National Senior Athletic Games organized by the National Senior Games Association (NSGA). These extraordinary women are changing the narrative on what's possible for athletes over 60. Pushing back against stereotypes of the limits aging bodies face, these women take back their autonomy, health, and happiness as they Live Life Fully.


We sat down with Eleanor Pendergraft to discuss living with MS (multiple sclerosis), advice for others looking to get active, and what keeps her chasing that finish line.


Eleanor with the friend who introduced her to NSGA.

Eleanor poses with the friend who introduced her to the National Senior Athletic Games.


How and when did you start playing your sports?

I was never athletic. I began in 2009 when a friend at the gym suggested the Senior Olympics. I laughed and said, you gotta be kidding! I've been so disabled with MS all these years. She said, try it. You'll really enjoy it. So I joined a local track club and raced with them every weekend, and gradually built up my strength before trying the Senior Games. It's one of the best things I've ever done.



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You said you were able to combat your MS symptoms through a combination of healthy eating and exercise. Can you tell us a little about what that process was like?

I have MS and was very disabled for 25 years. I had braces on both feet to eliminate toe drag, and I could barely creep around on the walker. For longer distances, I used a wheelchair or a power chair. In 2008, my neurologist said I was getting worse and I was never going to be any better. I told him he was wrong.

I had always eaten just whatever I enjoyed, whether it was healthy or not. And during the years when I was so disabled, it was hard to prepare healthy meals. But I started learning more about what I should and should not be eating, and I've just gradually increased my exercise levels and started eating a healthy diet.

A friend told me about a local fitness center, so I took SilverSneakers classes three days a week, and the other days, I worked on the machines and on the track. I begin cutting back on medication. I walked the indoor track on my walker and could only get about a quarter of the way around before I had to sit down and rest, but as I improved, I put aside the walker and started using two canes, then one cane. I saw people running on the track and I thought, oh, I'd really love to be able to do that. So one day, I started running, and I've been running ever since.



Eleanor holds up a track club inspiration award.

Eleanor poses with the Inspiration Award that she was awarded at 35th Annual Bristol 5K.


What do you do during the week to stay active?

I’m still involved in the SilverSneakers program, and I live in a downtown community close to some parks so I do a lot of walking. I walked about three miles around the parks and then gradually started walking around different neighborhoods that I'd never been in. Seeing new people and new things and enjoying the fresh air and the sunshine. I feel so much better when I come back home.



Action shot of Eleanor participating in the 2012 state finals.

Eleanor in action on the track.


What athletic achievements are you particularly proud of?

That's hard to say. Probably the fact that I can still walk and run. I've had both knees replaced. They went in and put titanium rods in the top and the bottom of one leg and a new knee. I had a couple of bad falls on some of these walks around town, so they replaced the rod in the lower leg, and the two bones in the lower leg had come loose from the kneecap. They reattach those and put in another new knee. Nine months later, I was able to run and jump and my Senior Olympics with no pain.



A graphic that says "seeing the inspiring people who are doing this, people older than I am who are still out there on that track and still breaking records, it’s the best part."


What sense of community have you gotten from playing sports and being part of the NSGA?

I’ve made friends that I've made from all across the country. Going back each time and renewing those friendships and seeing the inspiring people who are doing this, people older than I am who are still out there on that track and still breaking records, it’s the best part. It makes me want to work a little bit harder.


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Do you have any advice for your peers who are looking to get active?

Never give up. There's always something you can do. Whether it's just walking up and down the hall where you live or seated exercises. You can watch TV and get some ideas, or you can go to fitness centers like I did and learn from those people. But you don't have to sit and be a couch potato for the rest of your life. You may have some physical difficulties that may not be improved, but there's always something that you can do.



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Over 50% of women experience bladder leaks, yet it’s a stigmatized topic that people tend to shy away from. What advice would you have for them?

I think that's a pretty common thing for people as they age. And it's nothing to be embarrassed about because so many people have the problem. My doctor put me on medication for that for a while, but I decided that I didn't really need that. Before I leave the house always go to the bathroom. And when I take precautions like that, I don't need the medication. If I'm going to take a long trip, or when I'm in the games, I make sure that I wear bladder shields, and that takes care of it. I don't think it's something that people need to be embarrassed about.



A graphic that reads "When I get encouragement from people like that, from people at my gym, my church, and in the building where I live—it makes me want to keep going. "



Stay tuned for more exclusive content from the 2023 National Senior Games, advice on how to get active, and interviews from our inspiring athletes.


Click here to check out our last interview with 82-year-old Boston Marathoner and Gold Medalist Ellen Demsky!