Sitting across from Corry Moolenaar at her kitchen table in Gainesville, she looks like your average senior citizen with graying hair, thin glasses for her wavering sight and eyes filled with knowledge from 90 years of life.
A slight glance downward and one spies her two metal legs. She calls them “Lefty” and “Righty.” Her left leg was amputated because of peripheral artery disease in 2010. Her right leg was lost last June to the same disease.
“I was in a nursing home for three months after each surgery,” Moolenaar said.
The doctors told the Gainesville woman the reason she can walk with assistance is because she was so active in her life. And she has awards to prove it.
Corry Moolenaar earned more than 300 medals in the Senior Olympics over 10 years. She also has ridden a bicycle across Georgia nine consecutive years.
At home and abroad
Born in South Holland and living on a farm, Moolenaar is the oldest of her five siblings.
Her parents told her that she was supposed to be a boy.
“Farmers want boys,” she said.
But her gender didn’t stop her from helping on the farm. Moolenaar’s son, Norman, said his mother had to quit school at an early age to help take care of the farm that has been in the family for four generations.
“I had to milk 10 to 12 cows by hand,” Moolenaar said.
Life on the farm was not easy, but after World War II Moolenaar decided to leave her Voorhout South Holland home for love. In 1947, Moolenaar followed her fiance, a Netherlands native, to the United States.
“I was engaged to Frank Moolenaar, and he moved here in November,” she said.
Five months later, Moolenaar stepped onto American land and married Frank in Indiana where they lived for the first years of their marriage.
Frank’s uncle gave the newlyweds a plot of land to build a house. Then Frank and his cousin started a flower bulb business.
As the business bloomed and grew, so did the Moolenaar family. Corry gave birth to the couple’s three sons in the Hooiser state.
“She learned English at the same time I learned English,” said Norman, her youngest son.
Frank then started working with another bulb company in Michigan. He eventually became a bulb salesman.
“Instead of growing them, he was selling them,” Corry Moolenaar said, thinking of her husband who died in 1977.
Moving North, South
The Moolenaars moved to Michigan for Frank’s job and Corry Moolenaar discovered swimming.
“I started taking courses,” Moolenaar said. “I started in beginners and then went to intermediate, and then advanced, then life-saving. After all that, the only thing that was left was being an instructor.”
So Moolenaar took the next natural step. She became a swimming instructor and coach. But her time in Michigan was short-lived.
Her salesman husband decided to move the family to Stone Mountain in 1968.
“That was Frank’s idea, go more South,” she said.
But Corry Moolenaar put her swimming know-how to good use. She found a position at a local Jewish community to coach swimmers and instruct them on life-saving techniques.
Even though she did not need to work, her job from 6-10 p.m. kept her busy. She said she loved coaching and teaching others to swim.
Six years after moving South as a salesman, Frank Moolenaar accepted a job as horticulturist for Lake Lanier Islands. He then moved his family to the Hidden Harbor subdivision in Gainesville.
Acquiring new skills
Three years later, Frank died, leaving Corry Moolenaar alone in her home. But the middle-age woman would not let grief get her down.
Instead she returned to the job market, working for Holiday Marina.
“I started out scrubbing bathrooms,” Moolenaar said.
Knowing the English language well enough to communicate with customers, Moolenaar was asked to run the cash register.
“They were talking about a decimal and I never heard of a decimal,” she said.
After coming home crying one night, the 52-year-old decided to go back to school and earn her GED.
“I went three years to the adult learning center,” she said as the sound of pride poured out of her voice. “And at the end of three years, I earned my diploma.”
Earning a diploma turned out to be the first step in accomplishing a difficult task at an older age.
She started competing in the Senior Olympics, which is a 19-sport, biennial competition for men and women 50 and older. Its mission is to promote healthy lifestyles for adults through education, fitness and sport, according to the National Senior Games Association website.
Moolenaar has participated in Senior Olympics for 10 consecutive years and won more than 300 medals. Most of her medals came from biking, but she received medals for swimming and tennis.
“It gets easier the older you get because there is less competition,” Moolenaar said. “Biking was my main sport, but I also did swimming.”
Participating in her last Senior Olympics eight years ago, her son Norman said his mother always brought home gold medals from the local competition and silver and bronze from state and nationals.
Her active lifestyle was not limited to competition. The now 90-year-old has ridden across the state of Georgia several times.
“I did it nine times, nine years,” Moolenaar said.
Riding Monday through Friday, Moolenaar rode more than 600 miles each year.
Settling down at last
Having a very active life while she was younger, Moolenaar has slowed down.
“I can’t drive anymore,” said the woman who will celebrate her next birthday in August.
But she finds other activities to keep her mind and hands busy. She spends her days crocheting, making loop rugs and enjoying the nature around her.
But Moolenaar is still trying to be as active as possible, despite having a helper three hours of the day. The double amputee walks on her steel legs and with her walker she named, “Rolly.”
“If I don’t keep up, I’ll be in a nursing home,” Moolenaar said.