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Football’s Darrell Green was called the ‘Ageless Wonder.’ Now he wants to be a model for senior health.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 8/17/2021 Courtland Milloy

During his 19-year career as a cornerback for the Washington Football Team, Darrell Green could eat pretty much anything he wanted and hardly lose a step. He dined on burgers and fries, and shakes and pies, and still won all four of the National Football League’s Fastest Man competitions that he ran in.

Drafted by Washington in 1983, Green was 22, just shy of 5-foot-9, and weighed 173 pounds. When he retired in 2002, at age 42, he weighed 189, having gained only 16 pounds. But in retirement, he was no longer motivated to do Olympic-level workouts twice a day.

The fat in that fast-food diet that he used to burn off so easily began clinging to his waistline.

“I wasn’t doing anything, and suddenly I’m weighing 193, then 195,” Green said. “That’s like 250 pounds to a guy my height. Not only do you see it outwardly, but you’re affected on the inside, with digestive issues and allergies.” Poor diet also weakens the immune system which, especially in the age of covid, needs to function properly.

I’d met Green recently at the GreenFare Organic Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant in Herndon, Va., which was offering a nutrition program for people wanting to drop those “pandemic pounds.” I’m a lapsed vegan, back on the wagon after becoming overly reliant on “comfort foods” during these stressful times. I had some pounds to lose.

Green, now 61, had begun eating more plant-based whole foods three years ago. He’s now down to 187, with a goal of 181.

“I just like being lighter, able to move easier,” he said.

Green had lasted nearly two decades in a league where the average career is just 3.3 years. Known by teammates as the “Ageless Wonder,” he’d secured a reputation as one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who won his seventh Super Bowl ring this year at age 43, also eats a mostly vegan, low-carb diet.

Said Green: “It would have been easier for me if I had been on a plant-based diet all along. I could have played 22, 25 years, easy.”

But that’s all behind him now. Except for the Ageless Wonder. He wants to be a living example of senior fitness. As an associate athletic director at George Mason University, he also wants to make sure his looks fit the title.

And even more important, he wants to make sure that he has the energy to enjoy life.

Green and his wife, Jewell, have three children, all in their 30s, and eight grandchildren — seven girls and a boy, who range in age from 2 months to 18. “With these kids, man, I’ve got to be ready to bounce,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Pop Pop, let’s go to the park.’ I can’t be saying, ‘Nah, I don’t feel like it.’ I’ve got to be in the mix.”

To make healthy eating more a part of his lifestyle, Green built a vegetable garden at his home in Loudoun County, Va. He grows cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, peppers and three kinds of kale.

“I plant it, water it, pick it, wash it, cook it and eat it,” he said. “Eat more stuff that grew instead of stuff that was birthed.”

A report published in the July issue of Cardiovascular Research concluded that the best way to avoid heart disease is to eat whole and plant-based foods. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. And, according to the 2017 Global Burden of Disease study, poor food choices account for almost 50 percent of all cardiovascular disease fatalities.

Living longer — another good reason for loading up on the fresh fruits, whole grains and veggies.

That doesn’t mean that making healthy eating choices is always easy — even for a Hall of Famer like Green who has years of disciplined physical fitness routines under his belt. Growing up in Houston, he developed a sweet tooth for Shipley Do-Nuts and Blue Bell butter pecan ice cream.

“Whenever I visit my family in Houston, my first stop is Shipley’s,” he confessed. “But I don’t live at the doughnut shop like I used to.”

He also plays golf occasionally and pickup basketball games with guys half his age.

As a Christian, he says he also has a message geared for churchgoers — especially African American church basement chefs who can prepare some of the best-tasting, least-healthy foods ever served.

“Think about our bodies as the houses that God gave us to steward over,” he said. “I would hate to sin against my body by eating foods that will destroy it.”

Green hastens to add that he is not trying to convert anyone to a vegetarian lifestyle. But he knows the benefits of healthy eating.

“The first thing you have to battle is a society where obesity is normal, where our eyes have adjusted to these larger sizes,” he said. “Then, when you start slimming down, people will ask if you’re sick. Don’t get discouraged. It’s your life, it’s your choice.”

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.

Local newsletters: Local headlines (8 a.m.) | Afternoon Buzz (4 p.m.)Like PostLocal on Facebook | Follow @postlocal on Twitter | Latest local news Darrell Green standing in front of a store: Darrell Green, 61, a former Washington Football Team cornerback, outside GreenFare Organic Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant where Green dines in Herndon, Va. © Courtland Milloy/The Washington Post Darrell Green, 61, a former Washington Football Team cornerback, outside GreenFare Organic Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant where Green dines in Herndon, Va.
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