Harry Higgins began having chest pains in the pool at The Gardens of Taylor Glen while preparing to compete in the 2005 Cabarrus Senior Games.Those chest pains eventually landed Higgins in the hospital, where he had triple bypass heart surgery. The event also provided motivation for a lifestyle change. The 89-year-old set out to swim 300 miles in 2012 – and exceeded his goal by six miles. After spending months recovering from surgery, he eventually got back in the pool and gradually started to increase the number of laps he swam. Higgins said he measured the pool and figured one lap was roughly 107 feet, and 50 laps was a little more than mile. He can swim a mile in less than an hour.That soon became his standard goal; but he’s done as many as 150 laps, or three miles, at once. As a boy, Harry and his friends often swam in creeks, rivers and area lakes. He tries to go to the pool every day, but he reached his goal swimming just 229 days last year.Higgins and his wife, Nell – both Cabarrus County natives – moved from Harrisburg to the gated retirement community in Concord when it opened in November 2002. The couple has been married 67 years and teaches ballroom dance class every Monday night. They have been a part of Charlotte-area ballroom dance groups for more than half their lives, still attending at least twice a month.Harry learned to paint with watercolors while a resident; Nell has become an avid quilter and basket weaver through classes offered at the facility. And they both compete regularly in the Cabarrus Senior Games and have won dozens of gold medals.Their active lifestyle is especially inspiring when you consider the average life expectancy in the U.S. was about 78 in 2010, according to the humanitarian nonprofit worldbank.org. In the 1960s, it was 70. So the Higgins are beating the odds.The program options at Taylor Glen have evolved over the years, thanks to April Weddington, the life enrichment program coordinator and activity director for the last seven years. The facility’s oldest resident died last year at 99, she said, though the average age of Taylor Glen’s 150 residents is about 78. There are about 10 residents hovering around the 90-year-old mark who remain active.Wedding, a certified personal trainer and lifeguard who often runs half-marathons, said swimming a mile is the equivalent of running four miles.“We do have a lot of active residents who are involved all over the place but (the Higgins) do stand out,” said Weddington. “Especially with their age and setting goals for themselves. They like to participate in just about anything, but we have a lot of residents that do that. We even have some regular walkers who are 90 to 93.”Nell often walks in the pool – while Harry swims, usually doing about 30 laps – which helps her recover from multiple hip surgeries. She dances less than she used to. The couple uses blue pieces of sea glass to count their laps.When Harry gets out of the pool, he’s got a pep in his step, a slight glow and a huge smile. His pulse rate rarely beats more than 100 beats per minute after a swim. His doctor advised him to not let it get above 130 beats per minute.“I get a little concerned sometimes, but the doctor tells him to keep doing what you’ve been doing,” Nell said. “I’m proud of him, and I hope he can keep on doing it. But I think swimming 300 miles is enough for one year.”Nell’s hip and knee operations have slowed her a little, but she’s been there before.“I’ve had four hip surgeries and people always ask, ‘You think you’re going to dance after that?,’ ” she said. “And I say, ‘I have before and, I’ll do it again.’ I can dance better than I can walk because I get support from (Harry), I got the rhythm – and I enjoy it.” Harry said he doesn’t focus on if being active will make him live longer; he just knows he’ll be a lot more happy.The couple has known each other since high school and started to become more involved during their senior year, when graduating classes had 20-25 students. Nell’s sister and brother graduated with Harry. Nell and Harry raised four children and have six grandsons.Like his father, Harry retired from the Kannapolis train depot as an agent. At 18, he started working for the rail as a telegraph operator. Nell was clerk in the Charlotte office after being a stay-at-home mom for several years.Harry put his mother in a nursing home, and she lived to be 96. Nell’s mother went to a nursing home; she lived to be 98.“I tell people jokingly that no one in my family has lived to be 100, so I’m going to be the first one,” said Harry.
Friday, Feb. 01, 2013
Concord 80somethings enjoy life filled with activity
Couple thrives in Concord retirement community
Nell and Harry Higgens, both almost 90 years old, teach ballroom dance classes and compete in the Cabarrus Senior Games. LUKAS JOHNSONemail@example.com
Nell and Harry Higgins are some of the most active seniors who live at The Gardens at Taylor Glen, a resort-like facility in Concrd that houses 150 residents. Last year, Harry set a goal to swim 300 miles, and he surpassed it by six miles. His wife often walks in the water as he swims. LUKAS JOHNSONfirstname.lastname@example.org
Harry and Nell Higgins pose outside of their apartment, where several of Harry's watercolor paintings decorate the walls. Nell is an avid basket weaver and quilter. LUKAS JOHNSONemail@example.com