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Avon woman recognized as 60 Strong Ambassador

By Maria G. O’Donnell

Staff Writer

At 66, Gail Gillman Elansky doesn’t mind sharing her age. The Avon resident recently became one of 12 winners to be featured in the 2021 “Central Connecticut 60 Strong” calendar.

These 60 Strong Ambassadors, between ages 60 and 69, will appear in the calendar “that highlights events and activi‌‌- ties around Hartford, and serves as a roadmap to good health,” according to a press release. Whether the candidates overcame health issues or dedicated their lives to helping others, “each one has a unique story to tell,” stated the release, “and they all exemplify how life after 60 can be a positive, vibrant and active time.”

This describes Elansky to a “T.” Unbeknownst to her, an acquaintance had nominated her, and when Elansky found out she was qualified, “I was quite surprised,” she said. The organization sponsoring 60 Strong is Starling Physicians, who launched Starling Senior Care Advantage, a new program designed to keep seniors active and help them navigate the complexities of Medicare coverage and other healthcare decisions, stated their release.

Elansky heard from one of Starling’s representatives. She said they “explained their mission and verified that I was qualified to be nominated,” adding that she felt “humbled” by winning the role of a 60 Strong Ambassador. She was asked to be an Ambassador for three-year time period to promote the organization’s mission. “Inspiration is important,” she noted.

60 Strong contests have occurred at different locations around the country. Elansky said that after their focus on Central CT, their next stop was Buffalo, NY, where they chose a charity with which to send the 60 Strong calendar sales proceeds. Connecticut’s beneficiary is Foodshare, which speaks to Elansky’s volunteer interests.

Her volunteer work takes on the themes of children, the elderly, and food insecure. “I truly love children,” said Elansky. “I didn’t have the opportunity to have any; they’re our future.”

During her previous social work experience, she led a program in gerontology and focused on seniors’ need for socialization. She has also been involved with House of Bread, which started as a soup kitchen. Additionally she’s been a “celebrity guest reader” at Noah Webster School, has worked with Camp Courant, and has volunteered for over 25 years with the Share our Strength – Taste of the Nation event to feed local kids. Her other special organizations are Cherish the Children Foundation, the Hartford Hospital Partnership for Breast Care, and Tara’s Closet.

In addition to qualifying due to her dedication to helping others, Elansky has also overcome serious health issues with her eyes. She was diagnosed 25 years ago with an untreatable form of glaucoma. Way too young to contract this condition of high eye pressure, Elansky lost 95% of her optic nerve before she was even diagnosed. Additionally, she developed cataracts and had two detached retinas. This resulted in many eye operations, followed by lifetime appointments to an eye specialist every 3 to 6 months, and “it’s under control, thank God,” she said.

According to her 60 Strong essay, “I am beyond grateful to say I am doing GREAT! I view my eyesight challenges as a wakeup call. I stay in shape, keep a positive outlook, rarely complain, and never stop moving forward.”

That goes for her husband, David, too. “He’s another example,” Elansky said. “He just turned 79, and if you saw him, he looks like he’s in his 60s. He plays tennis four times a week. He’s the Energizer Bunny. He still has a 32” waist.” The two love to garden together as they find it very important to be outside and get fresh air. Elansky noted that her husband often gardens after playing tennis.

Although they don’t have children, they have two “four-legged children,” according to Elansky. That would be their dogs, Chloe Elizabeth (Cockapoo) and Rafael “Raffie” Nadal (yes, named after the tennis player because of her husband’s love for tennis, and the pup is of Cuban descent – a Havanese.)

Needless to say, the two are never bored. For Elansky, in fact, even being retired for a year after 40 years in advertising, “I don’t know how I had time to work,” she said, noting that she cares for her 97 & 1/2-year old mother (a two-time breast cancer survivor) almost daily and is very active in numerous activities.

In addition to her volunteerism, she’s working on a book, Only But Not Lonely that features only children, or “O.C.’s” as she calls them. She is one herself. But she’s reached out to other O.C.’s to solicit their contributions. Elansky said, “I’ve always wanted to write this book because I totally believe that only children are very different. We view ourselves differently; we’re viewed differently. There’s a lot of misconceptions and there’s a lot of jokes, but they’re right, they’re correct.”

No stopping there. She also plans a children’s series that she’s “been scribbling down for as long as I can remember,” Elansky said. Because she loves dogs, she believes it will be a “fun way to teach a child a lesson using a dog, whether it be about bravery or trying a new food. They’re very cute.” They’ll be dedicated to Chloe, Rafael, and (her now-deceased Bichon Lhasa) Oreo.

As a 60 Strong Ambassador, her advice to others in her decade? “Attitude is everything. And no one wants to be with you if you’re complaining or not a happy camper. There’s always somebody worse and there’s always someone that you can help. If you have a good attitude you definitely just feel better. I don’t look at age, in fact, I’m proud to say how old I am because it surprises people.”

She emphasized, “Age is totally irrelevant...It’s how you live your life – what you do and everything that you can do. And there’s so much out there to do. That’s the other thing. Be involved. Your days go by faster, your heart is full, your mind is active.”

Elansky lauded 60 Strong: “It’s very smart of them to bring awareness...It’s a way to keep healthy, to show that you just keep going. You’re 60? Big deal. Be healthy, be active, be involved. Don’t give up. Give back. And take care of yourself. I think it’s a very smart, subtle program to remind you of all that.”

Final advice? “Use it or lose it, man!” VL

Note: The 60 Strong Ambassadors will be making their first “virtual” appearance next month. They will share their stories and give advice to other seniors at a free “virtual” Medicare Shop and Compare event on Saturday, November 7 from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. Anyone can RSVP by visiting www.CentralCT60Strong.com and clicking the Medicare events tab.

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