`Boot camp' drills fitness into seniors

Shape-up: Seven Columbia-area seniors hoping to improve their physical fitness have opted for the hard-line approach to exercise class.

March 13, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The last time Bill Moleton was in boot camp, there was a war in Vietnam and 180 pounds on his 6-foot frame.

Three decades and 90 pounds later, Moleton, has enlisted again - in the new "boot camp" fitness program put on by the Howard County Office on Aging.

A former Air Force sergeant with a commanding baritone and a body like an action figure leads Moleton and other seniors in an hour of push-ups, crunches and other calisthenics - toned down, of course, from the rigors of a real military boot camp, but macho enough to draw folks who believe Jazzercise is for wimps.

"They get fit, and the men don't think they're wusses," said C. C. Pleasants, director of the county senior center in east Columbia, where the class is held. "It's real hard to bring in men. Women are in most of our exercise classes, especially the aerobics with music. But this is real exercise here."

Four of the seven recruits in yesterday's class were men - a striking turnout considering only one man joined the center's aerobics class set to Motown music and none is in the one set to waltzes.

"Kick that butt. Kick it. Work those hamstrings," former Airman Kalvin Evans, 28, called out as his troops marched backward up a ramp outside the center, swinging their legs high enough to hit their own behinds with the heels of their shoes.

Inside, they did leg lifts, sit-ups, stretches and push-ups.

"Down and up one, down and up two," Evans counted push-ups to "down and up 10." Then he led the class in 10 more.

Candace Martin, 53, had to drop and do an extra five because she was late to class. Anyone who'd cheated on a diet during the weekend was supposed to do another five. (Only one man 'fessed up.)

"I've never done a push-up - mercy!" said Terry Danner, 68, who joined the class for the first time yesterday.

Military trappings aside, Evans is mild-mannered as drill sergeants go. A youth pastor at Valley Brook Community Church in Fulton, he doesn't bark instructions, though there's no ignoring that baritone. He looks imposing, with rippling muscles, a shaved head and dark sunglasses. But he isn't about to run his troops ragged. He knows their medical history, after all. Knee troubles. Diabetes. High blood pressure.

"I know how far to push," he said.

Evans reminded them to hold onto the metal railing as they marched backward up the ramp. He let Danner use his exercise mat because she didn't have one. He smiled as Lewis Cross of Oakland Mills peeled off from the group, cutting short the power walk around the parking lot. At 69, Cross is the oldest member of the class. The youngest is 53.

"He can do that," Evans said as Cross headed back inside. "He's earned it."

Cross was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago and decided he needed to lose weight. He joined the first boot-camp class last month and signed up for another four-week hitch this month. Class meets twice a week and costs $20 - money well spent, said Cross, who has led a mostly sedentary life.

"I didn't do anything but watch TV and play with the computer," said Cross, a retired Defense Department computer specialist. "It's got my blood flowing. I feel like doing things now."

The boot camp hardly compares to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where Moleton was whipped into shape for the Army Reserve 32 years ago. But the class is a challenge for the 55-year-old hardware sales representative, who is trying to get fit enough to play in an adult softball league this spring.

Moleton of Ellicott City played baseball in high school but knows that these days, he can't just pick up bat, ball and glove and go. Three years ago, he attended the Orioles fantasy baseball camp, where fans shell out big bucks to work out like the pros.

"I was sore for almost three months," he said.

Though Danner was the class newcomer, she seemed fit. A retired nurse from Owen Brown, she does a lot of walking with her Labrador retriever and wore a Jazzercise T-shirt from a class she'd taken. Yet she quickly concluded that boot camp was something else entirely.

"You can really fake it in Jazzercise," she said. "You can't fake it here."

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