One Step at a Time

 

MULTI-SPORT ATHLETE, NATIONAL SENIOR GAMES GOLD MEDALIST, AND TEAM USA WORLD COMPETITOR STANLEY “LEE” WOODS TRAINS AND PLAYS HARD TO ENCOURAGE OTHERS

by AMBER SMITH ZALISKI

 
photo by Robin Rogers

photo by Robin Rogers

Qualifying for world-level competition, in any event, at any age, does not happen by accident. Placing 16th in the world in your chosen sport takes extreme dedication. Rev. Stanley “Lee” Woods, a multi-sport athlete, Senior Games competitor, and Team USA world competitor, has spent much of his life in preparation, and he knows, unequivocally, that God has directed each one of his steps along the way.

“A man’s heart plans his way. But the LORD directs his steps.” - Proverbs 16:9

To understand Lee’s drive, you first must understand his very straight-forward view of living well: “My essential order of life-values are God, family, ministry, and then play,” he said. “Any other order of priorities for me, and this story would not exist!”

In July of 2018, Lee and his lovely wife/ manager/head cheerleader Ginger made their way across the world to Denmark where Lee would compete in the 60-64 age-group Aquabike World Championship – a biathlon made up of a 3km (1.86 mile) swim and a 120km (74.5 miles) bike ride. Lee crossed the finish line at 4:59:24, earning 16th place and meeting his personal goal of a top-20 finish in under five hours. “Walking the cobblestone streets of Odense, Denmark, with teammates, attending the pre-race meeting and practices, especially the 100+ member group ride are experiences I will never forget,” Lee said. “My foremost memory from Team USA was an occasional glimpse to the street sidelines during the race and seeing the ‘Stars and Stripes’ being waved by cheering spectators. There is no greater honor than to wear the red, white and blue uniform (kit) in competition.”

In 2014, Lee went to the Arkansas Senior Olympic Games and received five swimming gold medals and two cycling gold medals which qualified him for the Senior Nationals which were held in Minnesota in 2015.

In 2014, Lee went to the Arkansas Senior Olympic Games and received five swimming gold medals and two cycling gold medals which qualified him for the Senior Nationals which were held in Minnesota in 2015.

But, how did he get there? Denmark is a long way away, and Lee would tell you that this event was a lifetime in the making. A California native, Lee spent much of his youth in the water. “Whether it was surfing, skiing, diving, I was all over it.” When he was 12, he began age-group swimming, but Lee assures you that he was an average swimmer. “I was not one of the so-called ‘naturals,’ but in high school I was introduced to Water Polo, and that sport, I thought, was really cool!” Lee continued competitive swimming, but it was Water Polo that would carry him through college and sustain him afterward as a teacher and swim/polo coach.

After a career change and the business of adult life took over, Lee realized it had been 10 years since he was really in the water, a full decade. At 40, he accepted an invitation to join the National 40-and-Over Water Polo Team, and an innocent question at the end of one practice led him into his next endeavor. “I noticed my dentist swimming laps, and he told me they were training for a triathlon, and I should join them,” Lee said. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I hadn’t been on a bike since childhood, and I never ran; swimmers didn’t run back in the day! But I finished first place in my age group in my first race, and I was HOOKED!”

Lee received much family support during Minnesota’s National Senior Games in 2015 when he won a gold medal in the 200 yd. breaststroke and a bronze in the 100 yd. breaststroke. Congratulating him are his son, Burkelee; wife, Ginger; and son, Samuel; and daughter-in-law, Anna.

Lee received much family support during Minnesota’s National Senior Games in 2015 when he won a gold medal in the 200 yd. breaststroke and a bronze in the 100 yd. breaststroke. Congratulating him are his son, Burkelee; wife, Ginger; and son, Samuel; and daughter-in-law, Anna.

Lee competed in various races for about four years, but once again “time and life happened,” and he found himself out of the water. In 2011, love and marriage brought Lee to Texarkana – what he calls another story of God ordering his steps along this journey. On his 56th birthday in 2013, Ginger gifted him a membership at a local pool and encouraged him to register for the upcoming 2014 Four States Triathlon. “As soon as I was in the pool, I looked up at Ginger and told her, ‘You don’t know what you’ve just started,’” Lee laughed. “The fever was back, and it was game-on, once again!”

Lee found everything he needed for training at CHRISTUS St. Michael Health and Fitness Center - “a well-equipped facility staffed with courteous and knowledgeable athletes.” Lee was introduced to the Senior Olympics (Sr. Games) of which there are local, state, and national competition levels. At the 2014 Arkansas Games, Lee earned seven gold medals (five in swimming, two in cycling), set two state swimming records, and qualified for the National Senior Games in Minnesota, bringing home gold in the 200 yd. breaststroke and bronze in the 100 yd. breaststroke. “I thought that was the pinnacle of my senior athletic endeavors, but God had another opportunity for me to express His Glory.”

Granddaughter, Cora, wears her Papa’s participant lanyard during an awards assembly in Plano, Texas, in September 2018.

Granddaughter, Cora, wears her Papa’s participant lanyard during an awards assembly in Plano, Texas, in September 2018.

When Lee heard about the newly-sanctioned Aquabike competition in 2017, his interest was piqued; with no run to slow him down, he could focus his efforts on his two strongest events. “Keeping the calendar filled with events that have qualifying objectives - next steps - keeps me motivated. When I don’t feel like training, that’s the most important time for me to do it.” Lee spent the year competing and qualifying in his new event, earning All American Honors, a fifth place national ranking, and a spot on Team USA for the World Championships. “My training became very specific. A daily, disciplined stretching and yoga routine is essential, three days of swimming totaling 10,000 to 15,000 yards a week, and three specific cycling workouts - intervals, climbing, and endurance - totaling 90-120 miles a week.”

Lee right after getting out of the water during the ITU Aquabike World Championships in Denmark last year.

Lee right after getting out of the water during the ITU Aquabike World Championships in Denmark last year.

Lee admits that his training, and especially his recovery routines, have changed as he has gotten older. “Are you kidding?” he laughed. “I definitely need more recovery time now. I used to be able to swim every day, but now the shoulders need more rest in between. My morning yoga and stretching routine is the most important by far, and the most difficult to observe.” St. Michael Fitness Center became Lee’s second home, and with the support of swimming coach Christy Mullinax Hibbs, cycling coach Jackie Brian, friends and family, anonymous donors, and corporate sponsorship from Pickle Juice, KT Tape, and local support from Dewraps Digital Effects and Berridge Bikes, he prepared for “The Worlds.” Lee set his goals high and took the wisdom of his father, Ernie Woods, to heart: “Set it, and then go get it!”

On a typical July Saturday in Denmark, overcast, misty to drizzly, 69 degrees, with 15-20 mph winds, and choppy waters, Lee was ready. “I set my thoughts on Dad’s words because now was my time to Go Get It.” Lee exited the water in 9th place and finished the race 16th. “Each mile, I was focused on how the Lord orchestrated my steps through my most recent training and through all the years that have led me to this event.”

Lee riding his bike during the ITU Aquabike World Championships.

Lee riding his bike during the ITU Aquabike World Championships.

The logical question that Lee hears often is “What’s next?” “I’m maintaining my health, but this is a scholastic year for me,” Lee said as he mentioned the reading and the essays required for graduate school. An ordained minister, Lee ministers as the Program Director at Damascus Home Ministries, “Straight Street,” a men’s “faith-based chemical dependency treatment facility” in Maud, Texas. He is pursuing a second Bachelor’s in Christian Counseling and his Master’s in Theology. “My hope is that I am always an encourager - that’s what the Word of God is all about. Through my ministry of activity and athletics, I hope to inspire others to lead a healthy lifestyle. There is purpose in every step.”

Stanley “Lee” Woods, at the young age of 61, still has some athletic goals on his personal bucket list, of course. “I want to get my running shoes back on, (yes, running!) and complete a full 140.6 mile triathlon - Ironman distance. I also see myself repeating the World Championship process, eventually. Who knows... maybe a Top 10 finish next time!” No matter your goal or where you are along the way, Lee’s

best advice is simple: “Remember - it only takes one lift at a time, one stroke at a time, one stride, one lap. It all happens one step at a time. Train safe, play hard in God’s playground, and I hope to see you at the pool!”