Yvonne Aasen, 87, poses with some of her awards. The Carroll Lutheran Village resident competed in the National Senior Olympics in late June in New Mexico, and won four gold medals at the 2017 Games in Alabama.
Yvonne Aasen, 87, poses with some of her awards. The Carroll Lutheran Village resident competed in the National Senior Olympics in late June in New Mexico, and won four gold medals at the 2017 Games in Alabama. (Courtesy photo)

Yvonne Aasen doesn’t let any obstacle keep her at bay for too long.

Aasen, 87, recently competed in the National Senior Olympics in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the end of June — less than one month after getting surgery to repair a blocked artery in her left leg.

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Nevertheless, Aasen returned from Albuquerque with a gold medal for her participation in the 4x100-meter relay and collected ribbons in each of her other events — she finished sixth in the 400 dash, fifth in the 800, and fourth in the 5-kilometer run in 55 minutes, 3 seconds.

“I was really worried because I didn’t have a chance to train before and someone suggested to me that hopefully my muscle memory would kick in,” said Aasen, a resident at Carroll Lutheran Village in Westminster. “I remembered how to run, but it was really difficult and painful.”

Aasen did not exercise much during the winter and spring because doing so caused her too much pain, she said. A vein specialist discovered the blocked artery in May and angioplasty surgery was performed June 11, Aasen said, despite a higher chance of clinical risk factors for elderly people who undergo this procedure.

Aasen said she was allowed to start running again after three days of rest post-surgery, but it gave her just one day to train before she was scheduled to leave June 17 for Albuquerque. She did a mix of running and walking around Carroll Lutheran Village to cover the distance of a 5K and train as best she could.

Doing so brought on a lot of pain, Aasen said, but she was still determined to compete.

Aasen was 46 years old when her husband suffered a heart attack at 49, and doctors told him it was brought on by a lack of exercise. Part of his recovery process was to increase his walking to three miles a day, and Aasen joined him.

She said she started by walking with him for six weeks and gradually started to run a few yards at a time.

“My legs were so weak, I felt like I would fall down at every step,” Aasen said. “I kept at it and ran a quarter of a mile without stopping, then a half mile and finally a whole mile without stopping.”

Aasen said she ran her first 10K the following spring, and has been running ever since.

Aasen is an active member of two running clubs, the Annapolis Striders and the Westminster Road Runners Club. She competed in the National Senior Olympics in Birmingham, Alabama in 2017, and won gold in all four of her events — the 400, 800, 1,500, and 5,000 — in the 85-89 age group, a trip she made with two other members of the Striders.

Contestants who wish to qualify for the national competition must medal in the previous year’s state senior Olympics. Aasen competed in the Maryland Senior Olympics and medaled in the 400, 800, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000-meter events to qualify for nationals in 2017.

“I go to the gym three times a week for strength training for bone health,” Aasen said. “Until I had this latest setback, I would go two or three times a week and run two to three times a week.

“I once ran 43 races in a whole year, I was 80.”

Aasen, who turns 88 next month, has been competing this summer in Women’s Distance Festivals across the state with members of the Annapolis Striders. She ran in one Sunday at Lake Montebello in Baltimore, despite the heat, and said the weather didn’t feel so bad because there was a breeze down by the water.

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Her next goal is to qualify for the 2021 National Senior Olympics in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“I’ve been told so many times that I’m an inspiration,” Aasen said. “Middle-aged people have told me they want to be like me when they grow up, an inspiration to keep on running.”

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