DURHAM (WTVD) -- Dr. Louise Gooche is 73 years old, and although she never picked up a pompom in high school or college, she founded a senior citizen cheer squad over 12 years ago. She credits the exercise with helping her through one of the toughest battles of her life.
Gooche retired as a nursing professor and director of nursing education from Durham Technical Community College, but she says her health and teaching career continues through her work with senior cheerleading.
She created the Durham Senior Divas N' Dude, a now 15-person cheer squad, where the members' ages range from 62-78, to inspire other seniors to get moving.
"We believe you should keep your body moving as much as possible in order to promote physical fitness, wellness, emotional health... in other words, it just keeps you feeling good," Gooche explained.
The group has performed at major Triangle universities with their squads, at the DPAC, and at Durham Bulls games.
Watch the Durham Senior Divas N' Dude perform below.
The Durham Senior Divas N' Dude are also annual participants in the Local and State Senior Games.
"When we win the gold medal, and we always do, then we qualify to participate in the North Carolina State Senior Finals," Gooche explained.
She said the team would like to compete in the national senior games, but there is currently no category for cheering.
The group got its start when Gooche went to an ambassador's training session for the North Carolina Senior Games and saw senior cheerleaders performing there. The idea caught her eye and she started a sign-up sheet at the YMCA in downtown Durham.
Nine ladies immediately signed-up, and the group grew from there.
To date, most of the dancers of the team of have zero previous experience in cheer, but that didn't stop them from signing up.
An aerobics instructor at the "Y" volunteered to coach the group, and the Durham YMCA has since become the squad's sponsor.
Gooche said the squad and the Senior Games are extremely important to her, and she said the exercise has changed her life.
"You have to work out about 5 to 6 days a week, and so as a result of that you're having fun but you're also maintaining a healthy body, she shared. "In 2002 I was diagnosed with colon cancer, and when the oncologist told me my results, of course you sort of feel depressed. But one thing he said to me: 'I'm glad that we found it when we did because you're coming to me with a healthy body,' so that was good.
"I knew that I had the strength, I know that I had the stamina to fight cancer, and I knew that I wasn't ready to leave here yet, so I gave it all that I had."
Gooche had to get half of her colon removed. She stayed in the hospital for almost a month and faced six months of chemotherapy after that, but she beat her cancer. She credits her drive for fitness.
"On the days when I had the strength and energy, I would always come to the 'Y' and work out and do whatever I can do," Gooche said.
She said after her chemotherapy, her weight, strength, and energy came back.
"I have more energy now than I have ever had in my life, and it's because of exercising, trying to eat right and taking care of your body," she explained. "If you're good to your body, then your body will be good to you when you need it to fight."
Watch her message to other seniors below.
"Get off of that rocking chair. Get off that couch," she said
Gooche was just named one of this year's "Humana Game Changers," for her lifelong dedication to health and for inspiring others to live a healthy lifestyle, and she was the torchbearer at this year's North Carolina Senior Games.
"As a retired nursing educator, I know the importance of good health and mobility, and we feel that if we keep our bodies moving, if we remain in an active state, it will enhance our overall livelihood, and it's so great at Humana to recognize all of the things were trying to do to maintain health along with longevity," she said.
Louise Gooche will be speaking July 28 at Humana's "Senior Games 101" seminar at the Humana Guidance Center in Raleigh.
ABC11's own Amber Rupinta will be the moderator of the discussion.