The Older Sister


You may remember that when I started the Older Sister series, I promised you some interviews. Well…..have I got an interview for you.

I started blogging a little over four years ago. One of the very first people I “met” was Sharon Couto. We met over a blog post about miscarriage. We have become very good friends. I feel as close to her as anyone that I have known since my childhood. She is amazing in more ways than I can tell you. I had the honor and extreme pleasure of meeting Sharon and her husband Barry in person last fall when they came to the Notre Dame/Boston College game in South Bend.

Sharon Couto is who I want to be when I grow up. She is the ultimate example of grace, beauty, love, wisdom, health and fitness. That is the short list. I don’t think there is anything that this woman cannot do.

In October of 2009, Sharon jumped from an airplane for her 57th birthday. That was the start of her “57 in 52″ for the year. A bucket list, so to speak of 57 things she wanted to do before she turned 58. It included everything from skydiving to pole dancing to doing a half ironman to making the perfect pie. Every blog post she wrote about her adventures that year made me feel like I was right there with her.
I asked Sharon a few questions about her life and her views about things. Here’s what she had to say……..

Give us a brief bio, please. Just some stats about your life;

I turned 60 in October. I was born in Michigan, the daughter of a career Navy man from Michigan and a beautiful little Irish lass from Boston who met on a blind date on New Year’s Eve 1950. I traveled as a kid with my family across our country, living in California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and at 12, Rhode Island. I’ve been in RI ever since. After high school, I went to Rhode Island College to become an English teacher and I began teaching right out of college. I met my husband Barry while teaching. I taught for 30 years (I also got my Master’s Degree in Education in 1976, as a Reading Specialist). Barry and I have 4 children, 4 in-law children and 9, going on 10 grandkids and 5 grand-dogs! I got my Master’s Degree at Boston University. I was a newlywed, working full time as a teacher and drove to Boston from Providence 4 nights a week for an entire school year and every day the following summer. I finished the program in ONE YEAR. I thought to myself, if I can do this, I can do ANYTHING! HA! I still to this day consider this one of my greatest accomplishments!

Have you always been physically fit or is it something you came into later in life?
I’ve always loved being active. I played with my brothers as a kid, and have always been competitive, but “girl” fitness wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. I just remember PLAYING outside, riding my bike with my friends, swimming lessons in California, jumping into the ocean in New England and lakes in Michigan. My Mom has always been physically active, and she gave me this gift. My Mom’s father (I never knew him because he died young from lung cancer) taught my Mom how to run races and play basketball. My Dad was naturally lean and he was good at lots of physical things. My parents always made us go outside to PLAY! Barry has always been physically active… basketball, baseball, golf, tennis. He taught himself everything he knows. We love being outside and that is how we raised our kids. Barry and I began skiing later in life (in our 30’s) and we loved this family activity. Our boys played basketball primarily and our girls were swimmers. In their adulthoods, they all began running. THIS is why I began to run 4 years ago… to keep up with them!

What does Barry think about your races and goals? Has he always been supportive?
Barry LOVES that I run and race and he loves that I set goals… sometimes lofty ones. He is my greatest support and my biggest fan (along with my Mom, who is now almost 88 and still walk a mile a day up and down the halls of her senior complex!) Barry taught me to play tennis, he wants me to take more golf lessons so we can golf together, and he has begun running (but carefully, due to a hip replacement 6 years ago). Barry is my light and my life and thinks there is nothing I cannot do. This is incredibly helpful and amazing when I question myself.

What was it like to do a marathon in a hurricane?
Well, the hurricane held off miraculously while I ran! There was wind and gusts of rain and dark clouds and threatening skies, but I finished Marine Corps in 5 hours, 55 minutes and 56 seconds, with my daughter-in-law Nicole by my side. Then we ran to our hotel, changed, hopped into a rental car (flights had already been canceled) and DROVE up the coast in a hurricane. That was tough!

What pushes you to do the things you do?
I think about this question a lot. My Dad died at age 47, a seemingly healthy, strong, lean man… who suffered a fatal coronary. I think I have a fatalistic point-of-view… like I know my life will some day be over and I NEED to get in a lot of stuff. I think of my Dad and know he’d be proud of me for using his life and memory to remember that life is fleeting. I also have great genes on my Mom’s side (one brother is 92, one is 86, and her sisters are 82 an 78). I just feel a need to get lots of stuff in; not take one moment for granted, whether it’s kissing my grandkids or running a marathon. I don’t waste time. Ever.

How did you come up with your idea for “57 in 52″?
I think I saw 60 coming and thought… why not get some good stuff in?! I had a blast doing all kinds of things and challenges and it was an impetus to keep going. Barry was with me all the way!

What was your favorite thing in the 57?
For certain, my Half Ironman was the most physically challenging and frightening to comprehend. Pole Dancing lessons were the most humbling… and difficult. ZIP LINING was the most frighteningly exhilarating. Winter Surfing was, well… good kind of crazy (I had never surfed before!) But if I had to choose ONE, Skydiving on my 57th birthday took the cake, so to speak. I’m terrified of heights and terrified to fly, so THAT was digging down to places in myself that I didn’t know existed. That moment I jumped from the plane at 10,000 feet, I knew I could do anything. I was SO happy that Barry and my Mom were there to see me. It was phenomenal.

How do you stay injury free with running.
Well, I wish I could say I’ve stayed injury-free. I haven’t had terrible, debilitating injuries, but I pulled a muscle or 4 in my left calf while training for Marine Corps that I didn’t address because I was afraid I’d be told to NOT run it… and adjusting for that injury caused some other stuff to happen… but after the marathon, I had some extensive PT and excellent training in stretching and pre-run workouts. I am now a smarter, stronger runner who will never, ever run through an injury again (if I ever get another injury). I will probably run shorter races from now on… mostly 5ks and 5-milers with a half-marathon every once-in-awhile.

What running method do you use?
I began with Hal Higdon for my first 5k, my first 10k, my first half marathon and my first marathon. I trained with Runner’s World Challenge for Marine Corps. I LOVED every training plan… they are clear, precise, easy to follow and manageable. Runner’s World Challenge gave me lots of additional information… nutrition, interaction with other runners and invaluable tips. I LOVED logging on every day and I LOVED meeting Bart Yasso at the marathon. Running with Runner’s World Challenge was belonging to a great community of friends. Barry used C25K for his first 5k and I ran along with him. I loved that, too, even though I had run several 5k’s by then. I’ve recommended C25k to many friends who are beginning runners.

Do you run walk, like Galloway?
I met Jeff Galloway at the 2011 Disney Princess Half and literally fell in love with him! I haven’t done a Galloway-inspired run-walk, but I’m definitely doing a Galloway if I do another marathon. It is smart, focused and do-able. My dream is to do a Galloway marathon with Barry! Overall, though, I NEED a race and a plan. I find it so motivational to have a registered race and a plan in order to accomplish a goal.

What advice would you give to other “Older Sisters” about keeping fit and having goals?
My best advice is do what I did… just lace up a pair of sneakers or running shoes or ANY shoes and get out there. Who cares who’s looking? Who cares what you look like? Who cares what workout gear you have or don’t have? Who cares? No-one is looking at what you look like… only complimenting you for being out there. Join a Zumba class (Barry and I have done Zumba and he puts me to shame with his Portuguese moves and love of dancing!). Log onto C25K. I have a friend, Connie Ciampanelli, who I met at 17 (we were both freshmen in college) who never did a speck of exercise in her entire life and ran a 5k last year using C25K. Connie did not think it remotely possible, but I ran her first 5k with her and she COULD NOT BELIEVE SHE DID IT. Connie is now a runner, a 60-year old runner, a member of a large group of on-line C25k runners! Join a spin class, a swim class, a pole dancing class, a yoga class. Set a small goal of running or swimming or yoga or Zumba or ANYTHING of once a week or once every two weeks. Make your goals manageable and fail-proof. Do not sabotage yourself by thinking too much, too soon. Be a snail. Be the one in the back of the room (like me at Zumba). Who cares? Just get out there at something that scares you, something you love, something you’ve never done, something you’re great at. Challenge your inner AND outer self. Know that us “older sisters” have loved and listened and learned and now it’s our turn to LIVE! Feel alive with your feet, your arms, your heart, your soul. Laugh at yourself and love yourself. The spring-chicken in your feet will compare only to the spring-chicken in your heart! Feel the laughter, the joy, the sounds of people you love cheering you on.

It only gets better with every passing day!

One of Sharon’s latest posts on her blog tells volumes about the kind of person she is. Check out Running at 60. Save the Bay Swim is Sharon’s latest adventure that she is training for. One of my very favorite posts was her Exposed post.

At the ripe old age of 60, my wonderful friend might be an older sister, but she is a sister that we can all learn so much from. She doesn’t take anything for granted. She lives her life to the fullest. She knows that putting herself on her “to do” list is important and she does it. She is her mother’s caregiver and she does it with so much love. She is a loving wife, mother and grandmother. Her family is everything to her.

I said it before and I meant it with all my heart. Sharon Couto is who I want to be when I grow up. I love you, Sharon! Thank you so much for being the first Older Sister interview. I don’t know how I could ever top this. xoxo

p.s. You can find Sharon over at

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I’m a 60 year old wife, mom and grammy. I am the ‘Older Sister’ around here! I’ve been married to my wonderful husband for 41 years and we have four daughters and four grandchildren. I’ve been chosen to be the mature voice of the Sisterhood and I couldn’t be more excited. My passions are my family, photography, Notre Dame football, Chicago Cubs baseball and my new found enthusiasm for fitness and weight loss. In a moment of crazy, I signed up to walk the 2013 Indianapolis Mini Marathon and believe it or not, I survived!