Receiving a diagnosis of the bone-wasting disease osteoporosis led a Californian woman into a pole dancing career, says Margaret Jennings
A 66-year-old world champion pole dancer who took up the sport after she was diagnosed with osteoporosis seven years ago, is urging us all to push through our limitations and to grow strong — not just physically — to meet life’s inevitable challenges.
After her diagnosis, Greta Pontarelli researched what physical activities she could do to strengthen her bones. “I learned that weight bearing exercises kept it at bay, but I wanted something more creative than lifting weights,” she tells Feelgood.
“Very soon I discovered that lifting my body in aerial arts could get the same effect. I went to YouTube and found some beautiful pole videos and was completely moved by their artistry, strength and flexibility. I knew this is what I wanted to do,”
However, the southern California-based mother of one found there was a bigger pay-off than just strengthening her bones: “After beginning to train on pole I saw my body getting stronger with a new definition especially in my upper body and abs, but working out also enhances the flow of endorphins which balances and enhances our lives on all levels. I felt healthier and had a renewed sense that I wasn’t too old to pursue my dreams.”
She first competed at 62 in an arena where all were between the ages of 18 and 30. Now there is a growing posse of strong competitors over the age of 40 (Masters competition entry age), she says.
Greta is the oldest world title holder, having won the masters competition for the past four years, the most recent in Italy a few months ago: “I am challenging myself to see how far I can go. However far more important to me than the medals, is the platform the stage provides me with, to hopefully inspire others to not let age — or any limitation — keep them from going passionately after their dreams.”
How hard-earned is that dream, you may well wonder: “I practice two hours every other day and do aerial yoga twice a week,” she says. “I no longer over-train because I have learned that my level of performance is optimised if I give my body breathing room to recover.
“I stick to my routine of training — even if it seems too hot or too cold, or whatever. It is only too easy to make excuses and that keeps us from manifesting our dreams.”
Around 20 minutes into her training the endorphins kick in and motivation is no longer an issue. In creating her choreography she finds uplifting music that brings the piece to life so the dance itself inspires her to train even harder.
As a self-employed business and life empowerment coach, Greta can also be flexible in her schedule: “I use my time wisely. I don’t watch television, so I have plenty of time to train and work on my art-form,” she says.
When someone is so inspiring we all want to know the secret. But Greta’s centredness and focus permeates every aspect of living. “I follow a modified Paleo diet which is pretty much gluten-free. I aspire to surround myself with empowering people, eat healthy food and stick to an effective training programme. Creating a life filled with purpose is an important element that motivates and enriches my life on all levels.”
Does she have to work harder to maintain that strength as the years go on? “I have had many challenges to overcome,” she reveals. “I have had major joint issues from practicing and competing in gymnastics on cement floors. Also my recovery time is much longer than the younger aerial artists. However I also aspire to have challenges build strength that we didn’t know we had.”
It’s a question of accepting her limits too: “Some advanced pole moves require extreme flexibility and are beyond the scope of what my body will do at my age. Since I have lost cartilage and range of motion, my ability to master them is compromised. However, I find that strength moves are something that my body will do and I work hard to maintain that strength and to bring more artistry and fluidity to them.”
Her motto is carpe diem — live for the present. “I believe that each day is a gift to be treasured and each day should be loved to its fullest. My daily goals outside of training, include learning something new every day; doing something that in some way enriches the life of another and something that rejuvenates my soul. That includes massages, meditation and taking time to stop and smell the roses.”
She also plans to continue working on the international stage through performing, teaching master classes and judging.
We are never too old to make healthier choices in our lives, says Greta: “If we listen to our bodies and give up unhealthy food, habits and thoughts that don’t serve our longevity, we can live a fulfilling life.”
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