Teens and seniors study weight training Howard High coach bridges generation gap with exercise program

November 10, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Gerald Smith, a star football player at Howard High School, is gently coaching newly retired Rose Marie Weaver, 65, through her rounds on the weights in a school gym.

"It's good she's trying to stay fit," Smith says of the diminutive Weaver. "Since she doesn't know how to lift [weights] yet, we don't want to do too much or take too much of a chance."

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning for 10 weeks, a class of about 18 senior citizens works out with students in an advanced weight-training class. It's a nice, easy recipe for fitness: low-impact exercise and weightlifting combined with an easy camaraderie between two generations.

The program -- a partnership between Howard High and Howard County General Hospital -- requires that each senior citizen has a signed doctor's note giving permission to take the class.

Dan Ross, Howard High's weightlifting coach, who developed the program, says it is the only one of its kind in the county.

"When I first told them about it, the kids really didn't want to do this," Ross says of the class. "But it's good for them to do this as a community service and because it helps them to understand that you've got to stay active throughout your life."

Howard High's principal, Mary Day, says the program has become popular in the short time it has been offered. Since its inception last month, the class has added about half a dozen senior citizens who heard about the program by word of mouth.

"We could fill this place up, the demand has been so great," Day says. "It's a good opportunity for the seniors to see that all young people are not like what they see on television: violent and out of control. These are very nice kids here, and I think they're working together very nicely."

The students keep careful charts of which muscle groups seniors are working on and how much weight they're lifting.

"At a health club, they'll wine and dine you the first two or three times you go in, then you're left on your own," Ross says. "This way, they're always with someone who can tell you if you're doing the exercise properly."

At 9 a.m., the first group of seniors arrives, smiling, gossiping, eagerly awaiting their time with their own personal trainers. By 9: 15, each senior has been paired up with two students who will guide the senior citizen through the maze of treadmills, free weights, weight machines and dumbbells.

Ross plays a steady stream of Frank Sinatra tunes on the sound system, and everyone moves around the gym for an hour.

"I'm doing this because I want to retain some strength and flexibility," says 67-year-old Gwen Malloy, who has two friends in the class, Inola Clements and Nell Bowington. "Being in good health is a blessing at our age -- at any age. In this country, seniors live sedentary lives. So it's important to stay active.

"Besides," she says with a laugh, "we're sharp women and we like to look good. You can't look good carrying around a belly and a butt!"

As the class progresses, the students lead their charges through a number of exercises. Each senior citizen is focusing on a particular area: back, knees or shoulders, for instance.

Many of the seniors, like 64-year-old Ellicott City resident Mary Ellen O'Neill, have never done any weightlifting. As O'Neill begins her pre-workout warm-up, two Howard students, Mia Taylor and Tyrra Brady, both 17, gently offer her advice.

"Ummm, you might not want to bounce up and down like that when you stretch," Tyrra says. "I don't know, you might tear a muscle or something, and you get more out of your warm-up if you bend down slowly."

As O'Neil's husband, 65-year-old Bernie, makes his rounds through the weight machines, he recalls that the couple's three children -- all of whom attended Howard High -- enabled him to stay active.

His children, he says laughing, "kept me in pretty good shape. I'm here lifting weights because my knees are weak."

Clements, who admits only to being "over 60," sometimes lifts weights in her Columbia home and stays active by playing golf and taking an occasional aerobics class. "You really have to keep moving, keep doing things," she says. "This is very enjoyable. And you can't beat the price."

Ross says: "Kids are still kids. It's good for them to work with these seniors -- maybe they'll develop a relationship that's positive and benefits them both."

Clements says the classes are "a wonderful way to spend time."

"I know it's not easy working with us," she says with a smile. "I used to be young once."

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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