Senior Olympian Frances Poole Knight had already overcome two hip replacements and a bout with breast cancer before she registered for the 2011 National Senior Games.
When she took the water Thursday in the last day of competition for Houston's Senior Games, she overcame yet another hurdle with her characteristic humor: Four broken ribs, which she injured during a tumble just a few weeks before she left for a 10-day jaunt to Ireland. She didn't postpone the trip, and Fran, who is 75, wouldn't dream of missing the games.
It's partly because she's already paid the darned registration fee, she says, but Fran has a competitive spirit, and she's audibly irked that her doctors have allowed her only one, short breaststroke event. "He told me, 'Don't push,'' Fran says beside the pool at her son's Briargrove-area condo. "I almost laughed in his face. Don't push? It's a competition!"
"This was once the body of a Miss Houston pageant contestant," Fran says as she settles herself for our poolside interview. She's done this before — for the Examiner, the Chronicle and KUHF, among others. With her outlook, her accent and her winking humor, Fran is the sort of person who begs to be interviewed.
Born in Galveston and raised in Houston, Fran says she's born to swim. Her maiden name is Poole, she was born under the water sign Pisces, and she was a Junior Olympian and a member of the Shamrock Hotel's synchronized swim team, the Corkettes, before she started her Senior Games career in 2009. To qualify for those games in Palo Alto, Calif., she earned a gold medal in the state finals for the 50-yard breast stroke.
Fran retired from the University of Texas Health Science Center just a few years ago, but promptly followed up her retirement by organizing a group of UT Health retirees and becoming their president and steering committee chair.
The University of Texas Houston Retiree Organization has of late turned its attention to raising funds for dementia research, after much deliberation about where to direct their efforts.
Fran has seen parts of her body go — she jokes that a partial mastectomy during her treatment for breast cancer means her "twins are no longer identical" — but says she can't imagine losing her mind. So, she's thrown her impressive resolve behind the Excellence Fund for dementia research at the brain health clinic at the UT Center for Healthy Aging.