A typical day for retired carpenter Carol Lewis is anything but laid back. Lewis, who goes by the name Ms. Carol, prefers a busy life. Whether she’s walking, bowling, dancing, kickboxing, volunteering at church, weightlifting, or perfecting her latest passion—prepping healthy salads packed with veggies under the advice of a local chef—she’s always on the go.
“I may be a senior, but I’m not a slow senior,” says Lewis. “I just do things fast. I can’t help it. I just have a lot of energy and I don’t know how to slow down. Every year I set a goal to be healthy, and every year my doctor tells me if he had more patients like me, he’d be out of business.”
Born and raised in rural Louisiana, Lewis has lived in New Orleans for 50 years. She says that her strong ties to her large family are a consistent motivator in life, including her healthy lifestyle. As one of 13 siblings, she talks on the phone every day with her four sisters, who also stay active. Remarkably, her father and mother both came from similarly big families; each is one of 13 siblings.
“Thanks to my family, I have been focused on being healthy for a long time,” says Lewis. “My mother Gussie Lewis passed away when she was 102 years and nine months old, and she was always a big believer in walking. She always said, ‘Take care of God first and your family second in order to take care of yourself.’ Sometimes I think staying healthy and fit is in my genes, but I know it takes eating well and exercise to make it happen.”
No matter the obstacles, Lewis finds a way to soar beyond expectations—and break a few barriers along the way. As a young mother in the 1980s, she was among the first women to enter the construction business, an industry historically dominated by men. She applied to work at a large construction company and was promptly hired as a carpenter, building wood frames for flood walls and other structures in and around the Big Easy.
Within two weeks, Lewis had already been promoted because of her strong work ethic—something she would eventually need more than ever. “When it comes to working, I am a woman all the way,” says Lewis. “I can outwork a man, but I’m not trying to be one.”
Her energy, wit, and resourcefulness were put to the ultimate test in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina swamped her beloved city and submerged her home into ruin. She vividly remembers the scene when she was finally permitted to return to her devastated property after the disaster.
“My house was totally messed up and everything was lost,” recalls Lewis. “But I knew it was all just things. So I rolled up my sleeves and got my life back together one day at a time.”
FEMA parked a trailer in her front yard to serve as a temporary workshop, and Lewis got busy. Using her construction knowledge, she rebuilt her home one board and beam at a time. It took two years of toil, but she eventually reconstructed it, effectively undoing the hurricane’s damage. She still lives there today.
Today, living is exactly what Lewis loves most. Her devotion to Christian Unity Baptist Church, which she’s attended for 50 years, keeps her busy, as she does whatever she can to support the church and its 150 congregants. When she was introduced to a Humana Neighborhood Center through her Medicaid Advantage program about nine blocks from home, her horizons expanded further.
At the Humana Neighborhood Center, she’s befriended many seniors like herself, who love staying active and eating healthy. Through the center’s health and fitness programs, like SilverSneakers, Lewis has easy and affordable access to learn a few new fitness tricks like kickboxing. She reserves her highest praise for the in-person cooking class offered through Humana, which transformed her into a salad gourmand. The class, Cooped Up and Cooking, is taught by local chef Neil “Nino” Thibodaux and showcases the power of vegetables to make meals both healthy and delicious. Because of COVID-19, the class is easy to access as an online video instead of in person.
“I love the cooking classes so much, I’ll go and buy the supplies and cook it at home right after the class,” says Lewis. “I never used to be a salad person, but learning how to prepare a salad properly has been really tasty and healthy. I love salads now!”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewis still finds time to stay active when she’s not enjoying time with her family and friends. This year she decided to take on the New Orleans Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll 5K in February. Walking it wasn’t really in the cards, nor was running. In typical Ms. Carol fashion, she and her friends mostly danced their way along the 3.2-mile route.
“I just started dancing and we had fun all the way to the finish line,” says Lewis. “I always forget that I’m a senior. My advice to others is to make a goal and keep going. Your body is your life and something you have to focus on. You can’t just sit at home and watch the clock. You have to join the race and you might as well have fun in the process.”