Seniors put on a show of strength at workouts

Exercise: Elderly students have all but taken over a weight-training class at CCBC in Catonsville.

May 07, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Buck Workman claps his hands together, snapping his weight-training class to attention.

"Grab your knees," Workman shouts to his 25-member group.

"If you got 'em," Al Bright replies from the back of the room.

As Bright's reply indicates, this isn't your everyday gym class. The average age is 73. But students display the enthusiasm of people decades younger.

That becomes clear as the door opens to Room 206 at the Physical Development Center on the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County. Class members, ages 50 to 80, descend on the stationary bicycles, rowing machines and weight machines.

"When you reach a certain age, it doesn't mean you have to sit down and die," said Edward Dragon, 76, of Towson, who has been in the class for 13 years. "It's a feeling of well-being; you're able to walk around the mall and not get tired."

In recent years, seniors have pretty much taken over the morning weight-training class, which meets three times a week and is part of the regular college curriculum.

"They fill up the class so soon, some of the young kids don't get to apply," said Workman, chairman of the school's physical education department.

During each class, students visit 28 exercise stations covering activities from weightlifting to stairs-stepping. Class members stretch and then do one-minute turns on each machine, a program geared toward aerobic and strength conditioning. Music - it could be Irish step dancing or 1950s rock 'n' roll - plays in the background.

"I may be 80, but I don't feel like 80," said Sam Fox, a retired manufacturer of fishing tackle from Pikesville. "Since I've been here, it's like I've knocked off 15 years of my age."

The school also has five swimming classes that are popular among seniors. School officials estimate that 400 to 700 seniors travel through their fitness programs in a semester.

In November, the college formed a Senior Advisory Committee to promote senior health and fitness programs. "They're a pleasure to work with because of their attitude," said Workman, who has been a fitness instructor for 35 years. "When you deal with seniors, they're here for a purpose."

Class members say the workouts are invigorating. "When I'm done here, I'm whipped for the afternoon," said Bright, 78, a retired brewery worker from Villanova. "If I hadn't been coming here, I'd be lying in bed."

The college fitness program is one of many available to older residents in the county, which has 140,000 seniors, the largest elderly population of any county in the state. Baltimore County's 18 senior centers offer 40 exercise programs ranging from tai chi to aerobics.

"It's light kind of fitness things, nothing heavy," said Charlie Fischer, director of the county's Department of Aging. "We want to present exercise as health prevention."

At the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville, wellness center leaders estimate that 10 percent of the 2,300 residents use the gym.

"We have a very thriving fitness center," said Nancy Abramson, a Charlestown spokeswoman. "They're using the weights and treadmills, the latest equipment."

Added wellness center director Sandra Kroft: "It really does give you some motivation when you see them coming in every day."

Shannon Jones, a freshman at the Catonsville campus of CCBC, recently joined the senior weightlifting class for a day. Jones said she was surprised to see how limber the group was.

"They're older than my parents, and they can do a whole lot more than my parents can exercise-wise," Jones said. "They can probably do more than me."

The senior member of the class is Helena Wright, 80, a retired city school principal.

"Sometimes you get up and you don't feel like getting up," Wright said. "But once you get here, you get rejuvenated."

Earlene Langfield, 58, of Arbutus intends to remain a member of the class.

"I'm going to do it as long as I can," Langfield said. "I think that's the secret."

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