How old are you?
Tell me a little bit about yourself?
I started dancing in 3rd grade in my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, and continued into college where I majored in dance education. I believe DANCE gave me a discipline for life! I didn’t finish college, however, because I wanted to dance professionally (modern dance)and not just to learn how to teach it...which is ironic because there was a time in life, as a single mom, when I depended on making a living teaching dance! At age 20, I left for NYC and was on scholarship with several dance companies, and basically danced all day. In time, I actually landed a paying job in a MIME Troupe, branched out to musicals Off Broadway, then toured with the show, PIPPIN arriving back on Broadway from 1974-1976 to understudy the role of Fastrada. Working with choreographer, Bob Fosse, on BROADWAY was to me, the top of the top as a dancer! I started doing commercials and hit that golden age to play a housewife and mother in 100s of commercials, from Jordache, Wonder Bread, Folgers, Sizzlean, GM, and many more.(classics that aired before DVR so people actually watched them and you can still see them on YouTube!) It was a great time in life. I got married, and my children, Jessie and Darren were born during this time and I actually lived in NYC for 25 years! But it all fell apart when my marriage failed and I wasn’t getting work. It was like the carpet was pulled out from under me. I had to move out of the City to a beautiful, but very remote location on a lake in the Poconos, with 2 kids and 3 dogs and no prospects for work, having to give up my beloved vocation of acting. We suffered in the winters with blizzards and all elements. But the kids and I had to make it work. No computers, no cell phones, no cable. There were days on end when we were stuck with no power, where I soon learned it was hard to make a living. That’s where teaching dance came in to save the day and I could take the kids with me! It wasn’t enough, so I started a sales job, as well, at a local radio station, learning a whole new career. When something had to be done, we had to do it. Both the kids became stronger by seeing how hard I worked and learned to “never give up” and “it’s important to be self-sufficient”. I believe through all these obstacles, I became a stronger person. I continued in radio for 20 years and never gave up the dream to get back to acting. Then fast track to: I remarried, moved to Maryland, kids got through college, and then my husband and I retired to North Carolina, near the beach...another dream come true at age 62. That’s when my life changed dramatically...to acting, Ninja, swimming and all those things I couldn’t do for so long!
Have you always been active?
Dance kept me active until I stopped in 1981 (after working on the movie, ANNIE) While in Sales, I developed a 20 minute workout each day which was short enough to do everyday, but long enough to maintain some degree of strength. (stretches, 23 push ups, crunches, etc) But I was always active playing with the kids! I’m a kid at heart!
When did start working out?
I had never done sports, nor entered a gym, or lifted weights in my life until I turned 63! I was inspired by watching my daughter, Jessie Graff, in American Ninja Warrior. She’s gone further than any other female on the show and to me was the picture of health...strong and graceful! I told her I wanted to get stronger, and she said, “do pull ups”.
You didn’t do your first pull up until you were 63. How long did you train for it before you final got one?
It took me an entire year to get one pull up. I went to a personal trainer with a goal of 5 pull ups. I did not want to hurt myself lifting weights and needed the guidance. I had no upper body strength so we worked on arms, chest, back, and of course, legs; and it took about 7 months before I saw a difference in tone and strength. That gave me the confidence to continue. Women of my generation were not encouraged to lift weights, in fact, it was often said, that ‘you don’t want to get too bulky, it’s not feminine’! Wow, luckily things have changed to: Strength is healthy!
You are an American Ninja Warrior! Tell me about the first ninja workout you ever did.
A neighbor who had been on the show, built obstacles in his yard to work on since there is no ninja gym close to me. I was intrigued by the quintuple steps, a series of 5 angled steps that you run across, jump to a rope and swing to a platform. The athletes made it look easy, so I tried them at my friend’s house...but I took one angled step and thought I would break an ankle!! But we worked it in baby steps, bringing them closer together at first and then moving them further and further apart. Once I mastered that, it was such an amazing sense of accomplishment! I had just made what seemed impossible...possible! Then I was hooked.
What’s your favorite obstacle?
The rings! I love swinging from ring to ring!
What obstacle haven’t you mastered yet, but are determined to conquer it?
2 obstacles….I’m so close to them both! The warped wall (I’m inches away) and the Salmon Ladder. (I’m halfway there!)
Do you ever get scared? If so, what do you tell yourself in these moments?
Oh, yes! I have a terrible fear of heights. Rope climbs took a long time to try. I’m not sure you ever really get over it, but I learned to never look down, just concentrate on the rope in front of me.
My top climb is 65 feet! I don’t allow the negative thoughts get in my head. Your faith in yourself must be greater than your fear. Staring down the ANW course with obstacles I had never attempted, with hundreds of people watching, the lights, cameras, the overnight shoot, the obstacles suspended over water is daunting. But sometimes you just have to rely on the fact that this is what you’ve trained for!
You’re pretty dang flexible. Have you’ve always been that flexible? How often do you stretch?
Unfortunately, I am no longer flexible. In fact, I don’t think I ever was! But arthritis has set in and I have lumbar spondylolisthesis and that hinders me.
I stretch a lot while watching TV and take 2 yoga classes per week. Last year, I booked a role in the movie, POMS, with Diane Keaton. My role was to be fit, do yoga, and do the splits! Perfect for me, but I hadn’t done the splits in 45 years!!! All this time, I’d been working on tightening the muscles, now I had to work the reverse...lengthen the muscles. I worked on it morning and night. So much harder to do when you are older. Now I practice a lot so I don’t lose it! I do stretch after working out. And I’m careful about recovery and not doing too much.
What does a normal workout week look like for you?
I belong to a swim club and workout 3 times a week for an hour each time. This has built endurance for me and is great cardio. I work on obstacles 2 times a week at my friends house. And twice a week, I go to a personal trainer, and twice a week, yoga.
What have you learned about yourself since picking up the sport of ninja training?
That one fall doesn’t define you. Fails are just part of the process. Fails hurt unless you can see the positive effects that can come from them. We either fail, or dig in and we build. It’s important to focus on the process, not the outcome. The improvement is the important part. It’s through failure, you find strength. I’ve learned to adapt...there’s more than one way to accomplish a task. I’ve learned to expand my belief in what I can do. Instead of saying, “I can’t do that”, I’ve changed it to, “I can’t do that YET!”
Do you view yourself as a role model to other women?
I do feel that when people see me doing some of the crazy obstacles I do, that they say to themselves, “If she can do it, so can I”! I do see more and more women seniors getting involved in ninja and that’s great! I’d like to think I had some part in that. But mostly, I get lots of messages from people all over the world, that I have shown them that you CAN get stronger as you age. It’s been said that people grow old and die, because they see others grow old and die….I’m hoping now people can see me and tons of other seniors exercising and moving more and doing things into our 100s and, in turn, be inspired to get up and keep moving.
Your Motto is Strength is Ageless. What does this mantra mean to you?
You are never too old to get started! That you can gain strength as you age. That kids as well as adults of any age can get strong! I have never felt stronger in my entire life!
What would you change with how women approach exercise if you could?
I would like women to change their perspective to: not concentrating on the latest diet and how one ‘looks’, but to think about getting stronger for one’s health which will in turn will naturally help you to want to eat healthier. The health benefits are phenomenal. After lifting weights for 2 years, I was able to reverse my bone density from osteopenia (step before osteoporosis) back to normal. And the muscles do not age as long as you work them. The average person loses 30% of lean muscle mass by age 60 and 50% by age 70! We need to fight the aging process. With exercise, you can increase bone mass, improve balance and coordination, increase metabolic rate, reducing body fat and it’s also good for your brain. The facts are overwhelming and we need to counter aging every day! I’m pretty passionate about this!
In your own words, what’s an athlete?
Interesting question because it took me a long time to call myself an athlete! I described myself as an aspiring athlete for the longest time, so I had to give it some thought! I think if you have trained in a certain exercise or sport and compete then that certainly qualifies. But even if you just do it for fun and health, you can also be an athlete as long as you continue and get better and stronger.
What advice do you have for other females over 35 looking to get started?
I always say to start out walking, 3 times a week, for 20 minutes each time. Then gradually build to intermittent fast walking. And always have a buddy to walk with. It’s so much more fun. Gradually, walk longer and get the heart rate up (if health problems, you should talk to a doctor)
This is a good start. Find your passion, make attainable goals, be consistent which forms a habit, and build on that! I also recommend a book I read that absolutely motivated me called, YOUNGER NEXT YEAR FOR WOMEN. It’s easy to read and tells you in simple terms what to do to get started. I would also recommend getting a personal trainer to learn to lift weights correctly. It’s too easy to hurt yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing! Be around supportive people! Believe in your dreams and go after them with a passion. Believe in yourself that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. And train your mind to wear down your obstacles, excuses and fears. Don’t stop till you get where you want to be! AND, Make fitness fun!
Watch Ginny's story on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jl96obIBR18