It was the summer of 1977. Lou Ott, then nearly 40, was riding with a friend in Chicago when their car was broadsided. Sitting on the passenger side, Lou arrived at the hospital with 12 broken ribs and a broken pelvis. "I was in the hospital for weeks," she says. Her doctors feared she wouldn't survive. Little did they know what Lou had going for her—a strong body, a tough spirit and a never-say-quit attitude.
That upbeat attitude is just part of what makes Lou—a.k.a. Noona Goosie to her grandkids—special. Now 71, Lou is always on the go, whether she's cross-country skiing (a sport she took up a mere three years ago), working out at the gym, or riding roller coasters with her grandchildren. Often she's dragging a loved one along on a new adventure. "She's able to not only keep up with her eight grandchildren, but she motivates them to join her in new activities," says daughter and nominator Diane O'Connor, of North Andover, Mass.
Lou wasn't always so spunky. When her kids started working toward the Presidential Fitness Awards in school, Lou took notice. "I thought that was a clue for me, as a parent, to stay active," she says.
And stay active she has. Retired from her long-time job as a hospital secretary, Lou finds plenty of ways to keep busy. A regular day might mean walking a mile into town and back, puttering in her garden or doing aerobics at the gym. Like anyone, Lou doesn't always feel motivated. "Sometimes I tell my husband to push me out the door," she admits. But the workout is always worth it—even if it's just carrying in the groceries or lugging paver bricks in the yard. "I want to keep my upper body strength," Lou says. "Women need that, but we're never told about it."
She keeps her brain going strong, too, from practicing her shorthand now and then ("it's been an asset all my life") to doing art projects in the basement workspace husband Roy has set up for her. "I can get lost down there for hours," she says. And in 2007—at age 69—Lou did something she'd always wanted to do: sign up for piano lessons. Having never learned as a kid, she found a group class for adults at her community center. "I love it!" Lou says. "We play Sinatra, Tony Bennett. Right now I'm learning 'Come Fly With Me.'"
Listening to Lou talk, it's hard to believe this vibrant woman once spent weeks in a hospital recovering from a near-fatal accident. But she certainly doesn't show any signs of slowing down now. "My mom used to say, 'I'm old outside but I'm young inside.' I hope things stay that way for me."
Watching her grandkids play sports inspires Lou to stay active herself. Here's how she remains young at heart:
- Learn something new. In addition to piano, Lou has tried chess, too. "I always want the chance to learn more," she says.
- Stay in touch with friends. Twice a year, Lou gathers with friends from her all-girl high school. "We go to a restaurant and visit," Lou says.
- Travel. Lou enjoys quick trips to see her children in Minnesota. Getting out of her routine keeps her mind sharp and gives Lou things to look forward to.