Active Atlantan: A Conversation with Mildred Schmelz

Portraits of Resilience: Metro Atlantans Share their Stories of Life during the Pandemic

For adults ages 65 and older, the past two years have been especially challenging. As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we take a look back to see how the lives of metro Atlanta residents have been impacted. During the month of March, we will share the stories of older persons from across the region weekly.

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Mildred sits cross legged on a yoga mat with her eyes closed. Her hands are pressed together in front of her.
Mildred’s fitness routine often includes yoga.

Staying active and physically fit has been a top priority for Mildred Schmelz over the past two years. A breast cancer survivor, Mildred has kept up with her walks, weight training, and yoga five times a week even as she navigated the ebbs and flows of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I try to work out because I don’t want to get sick,” says Mildred, who turned 70 in February. “I exercise to stay healthy and to lubricate my joints. I try to stay active as much as possible, so I don’t get into a rut.”

Mildred retired in 2014, but she stays busy. The Ellenwood resident serves on the Henry County Council on Aging, the local board of elections, and the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Advisory Committee on Aging. Exercise gives her energy to be involved in all this.

Mildred walks about three miles a day, and she is not confined to doing it just one way. She may walk indoors following a DVD, outdoors on a hiking trail, or on the treadmill at LA Fitness. Mildred exercised regularly before she retired, but she’s focusing on it more now. She recently went to get a physical and her physician was amazed that she was only on one medication. “Many people ask me, ‘You’re 70?”

While the pandemic made it much harder to see her two sons, her two grandchildren, and her friends, staying active was something she could do to make her feel better.

Living through the lockdowns and restrictions of the past two years also helped Mildred reflect that she wants much more out of life. “The pandemic has made me realize that there’s so much more to living than just working, paying bills, and buying stuff,” Mildred says. “I want to travel the world and see how other people live. We’re all waiting for this pandemic to be over so we can travel.”

Mildred, who lives with her husband of 40 years, wants to visit places she hasn’t been to. She hopes to travel to Australia next year and wants to visit Asia, Africa, and Antarctica so she can cross all seven continents off her list. She fondly remembers a trip she made to Cuba a few years ago and how much she enjoyed meeting the locals. She wants to relive similar experiences in other parts of the globe.

Right now, Mildred is going through grief counseling with a therapist. In early 2020, her 49-year-old son unexpectedly passed away, and it’s been difficult processing that pain. She still has his ashes in her living room and is looking forward to getting her family together to spread his remains on top of a mountain. “It is very difficult for some people who haven’t lost a child to understand people who have lost a child,” she shares.

Mildred cherishes living in a house sitting on a two-acre lot that she’s decorated nicely throughout the decades. The mortgage is now paid off, and she’s enjoying it more. Despite this, when she looks around, she sees all the stuff accumulated over the years. She doesn’t likethat aspect and is slowly giving away her possessions.

Mildred has faith that things will get better this year. She wants to be ready to enjoy every minute she has. “Life is short,” she says. “You must enjoy life today – you must not put off for tomorrow that which can be enjoyed today.”

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For more information about services for older people and people with disabilities in the Metro Atlanta area, check out our Service Provider page, or visit the Empowerline website to be connected with counseling

Arin Yost

Arin is a Lead for America fellow with the Aging & Independence Services Group working with the Live Beyond Expectations team to identify and address disparities in life expectancy throughout the Atlanta region. In their free time, Arin enjoys gardening, creating zines, and spoiling their pet tortoise, Michel.