Midtown: Community

‘An inspiration’: At 92, Nathaniel Hines is still going strong

Any of us needing motivation to stick with the hard work of fitness must meet Nathaniel Hines.

“I was born September 28, 1920,” Hines said. “I’m still exercising.”

That’s right, math done. Hines is 92.

Three times every week, Hines walks the treadmill, rides the bicycle and lifts weights. He spent the past three years at the Garner Senior Center. Now, he’s a regular at the Whitaker Mill Road senior center closer to home.

And he’s commanding attention.

Hines caught Peggy Hopson’s attention at the Garner Senior Center. Hines was on the treadmill when she went in to exercise – and when she left. Surely, she thought, he must be younger, so she asked.

“When he said he was in his 90s, I ’bout dropped my teeth,” said Hopson, who is 74. “He’s just amazing. He would be such a great role model for young people today. He is the greatest generation.”

Hines is among the increasing population of America’s “older old,” which is what the Administration on Aging calls people over 85. More and more, longer life is attributed to healthy diets and regular cardio and strength-building exercises. It combats the signs of aging: disease, frailty, lack of energy; the same things caused by lack of fitness.

Hines is proof that any of us – no matter our age – can get fit, stay fit and, perhaps, live healthier and longer.

“If you continue to stay active and take good care of yourself, you can continue to do the things you want to do into your 80s and longer,” said Nancy Hulbert, the town of Garner’s Adult and Fitness Program specialist. “Nathaniel was an inspiration to others here who were much younger.

“Age is just a number,” Hulbert said. “Do you know how many women at the senior center wanted me to fix them up with Nathaniel? He’s amazing.”

Hines looks to be a man in his 60s, including all of his own teeth, he notes. He lives alone in a townhouse off Hargett Street. When it was heavily damaged in the tornado, he spearheaded repairs. He drives a Miata sports car wherever he goes, including to pick up his great grandson from school. He takes friends on errands. And he travels.

Even though Hines isn’t sure what all the fuss is about, he shares what motivates him.

“The way you treat you own body has a lot to do with your longevity,” he said, adding he eats mostly fish and chicken, with a little beef and shrimp on rare occasion. “I don’t think a little bit of anything will hurt you.”

Hines needed some reminders along the way.

Soon after a cruise, Hines, then 81, recalls being unusually tired following a short walk to his car after his part-time job one evening. He drove straight to Rex Hospital.

Doctors initially suspected clogged arteries, he said. The reality: A quadruple bypass was needed.

“I started exercising before I got out of there,” Hines said. “I haven’t had any problems since.”

Childhood on the farm

Raised on a small farm in Bladenboro in southeastern North Carolina, Hines was the ninth of 10 children born to Cicero and Amanda Monroe Hines. He only remembers life with his father and three of his siblings. Tuberculosis killed everybody else. His mother died in 1925. Three brothers and three sisters died, too.

When Hines was 7, his father married a woman whose daughter became Hines’ sister. Now living near Wilmington, she’s 91. Hines’ only surviving biological sibling, the youngest, still lives in Bladenboro. He’s 90.

As a child, Hines said, the family’s farm of peas, beans, corn, potatoes, peanuts – and the beets and okra he still loathes – kept him active. So did basketball and baseball. Hines’ focus on fitness continued during a stint in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1945 that took him from North Carolina to Texas, and from France to Japan.

In 1943, Hines married his high school sweetheart, Lottie Odell Baldwin. She died of heart failure in 1964. The couple had two daughters. Hines’ second wife died in 1986 following a stroke, and his oldest daughter, Rita, died of lung cancer in 2003. She was 59. Hines’ youngest daughter, Angela, as well as his grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other family, still stick close.

Following an Honorable Discharge, Hines graduated from what then was N.C. A&T College. He went on to work as a budget analyst for the Department of State in Washington, D.C., and served in the Peace Corps in Liberia. When he returned to North Carolina, Hines worked for the state and N.C. State University.

“I have been pretty healthy all my life, except when I was a little boy…I ate some green peanuts and that almost killed me,” he said. “But that still didn’t turn me off from peanuts!”

Hines laughed, then said, “Well, I’ve decided that, on anything, you shouldn’t eat too many.

“Just eat what you need.”