PINELLAS PARK – With the Florida Senior Games underway in Clearwater, Humana, sponsor of the annual competition, has named a Pinellas Park resident one of four Humana Game Changers.
Multisport athlete Leurene Hildenbrand exemplifies healthy aging and serves as an inspiration for all ages, said Deb Galloway, Humana’s Central Florida regional president.
Hildenbrand is a great example of Humana’s vision for “what living a healthy lifestyle is about,” Galloway said. “Not only is she physically active, she is mentally active. She does it all.”
The 85-year-old will compete in various sports during the games, including pickleball, table tennis, track and field, and shuffleboard.
Hildenbrand said athletics came naturally to her after retiring at age 55.
“I never got into sports until I got older,” she said. “I was a fairly good athlete. There just wasn’t any opportunities to test it.”
Growing up, there weren’t many sports for girls – just basketball in the winter, and only on a half court, she said, and softball during the summer. And they weren’t competitive intramural teams. Boys, however, had more options and were able to compete in a number of sports at school and in her community, she said.
She stayed active as a girl, though. Growing up in Ohio, she enjoyed being outdoors, particularly ice skating and bicycling. Hildenbrand’s parents had a cattle farm and she often pitched in to tend to the land and help her family.
Though she couldn’t play organized sports, she always had a competitive spirit, she said.
“I had four brothers,” she said. “I always had to compete with them to be the best, and I was.”
After high school, she pursued a career in the male-dominated research science field. She found a job with Goodyear in Akron, Ohio, and became the first female to manage a laboratory in her company.
Her late husband also worked for Goodyear, in the department that televised largescale sporting events from the Goodyear Blimp. They’d travel the country to attend various events that he worked.
This is how Hildenbrand came to live in Pinellas Park part-time. They spent time in Daytona for sporting events and when her husband retired, they bought an RV and traveled throughout the state until they found an area they liked the best. When they got to Pinellas County, they knew they had found their new part-time home.
“It had everything I wanted,” she said. “Restaurants, the Pinellas Trail, which is wonderful for cycling and roller blading, all the culture.”
She slowly began adding sports to her repertoire. First cycling and roller blading, and then eventually pickleball, table tennis, shuffleboard, and various competitions within track and field.
This fired up her competitive spirit, and it wasn’t long before Hildenbrand began competing in the Florida Senior Games as well as other events. Over the years she’s won a number of trophies and medals, easily in the thousands, she said.
“When I get started on something I want to do, I will go all out for it and get very competitive,” she said.
She and her husband cultivated other interests, as well. They operated a Black Angus farm in Ohio, and built boats and houses when they were younger.
Hildenbrand is also a long-time violinist. She performs with the Pinellas Park Civic Orchestra and with a 20-piece orchestra that travels to nursing homes and similar facilities “to bring music to the people not capable of going out,” she said.
She also enjoys gardening and spending time outdoors.
As for the honor of Humana Game Changer that was bestowed upon her, she said she was “surprised when they told me, and even more surprised when they told me how many people they [considered for the title.]”