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Fit Seniors Inspire Younger Generation

By Elaine Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Aug. 22, 2007 – In a weight room packed with muscular men, little 77-year-old Wera Sharp turns heads as she walks in and makes a beeline for the pull-up bars. Still sweating from 30 minutes on the treadmill, Sharp jumps up, grips the bar and effortlessly pumps out 10 chin-ups in less than a minute.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Wera Sharp, wife of retired Col. Fred Foxx, pounds out pull-ups at the Jimmy Brought Fitness Center. The 77-year-old grandmother is a regular at the Jimmy Brought Fitness Center. U.S. Army photo by Olivia Mendoza

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The only sign of strain is her shaking muscles after a second or third set.

Sharp is raising the bar on fitness here, not just for seniors, but for everyone. When this spry grandma with curly blonde hair and a friendly smile hits the gym for one of her three-hour workouts, she easily surpasses fellow gym-goers half her age.

“I’ve been working out all my life, but only started coming to the gym about five years ago,” said Sharp, slightly out of breath after a pull-up set. “I’ve always worked out and see no reason to stop now.”

Sharp, wife of retired Col. Fred Foxx, credits her toned body to “a little bit of everything: weights, swimming, stair-stepper. I like to get a total-body workout.”

As Sharp walks over to hit the mats for a hundred crunches and 50 push-ups “man-style,” she points out a man senior to her working his triceps nearby.

Ninety-two-year-old retired Army Lt. Col. Frank Rabell, a five-time visitor to the gym each week, is pumping out reps on a weighted bar. His wife, Michelle, is walking at a steady pace on a treadmill just outside the weight room. “Working out keeps our minds sharp and our bodies healthy,” Michelle said. “We’ve been married almost 50 years and have never been sedentary.”

Lucian Kimble, director of the Jimmy Brought Fitness Center here, said seniors are a common sight at the gym and a constant source of inspiration and motivation for people of all ages.

“The fitness center is like a fountain of youth; we have people from age 9 to 90,” he said. “Age doesn’t matter. It’s your lifestyle and the choices you make -- how much rest you receive, nutrition and activity level.

“Every time an active adult comes in, it’s a great example for everyone. You’re never too obese or old; it’s never too late.”

Like their younger counterparts, seniors can reap numerous benefits from staying active, according to the National Institute on Aging, including:

-- Keeping and improving strength to help maintain independence;

-- Having more energy;

-- Improving balance;

-- Preventing or delaying some diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer; and

-- Perking up mood and helping reduce depression.

Another benefit is the inspiration they provide others.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Tiberio, a regular at the gym, said he aspires to be as fit as some gym-goers 20 years his senior.

“I see a lot of older people who are in better shape than me,” said 36-year-old Tiberio, who could be called buff in his own right. “I know a man in his 70s who could do inverted push-ups and a very fit lady, Ruth; she motivates me every day. I want to look as fit as she does when I’m in my 50s. It’s pretty inspirational.”

The fit seniors at the Jimmy Brought Fitness Center are not that unusual when compared to a society that is looking and feeling younger than ever before thanks to medical advances and healthier lifestyles. At 77, actor Sean Connery is still deemed a dreamboat, and at 65, Harrison Ford is not only looking good, but about to embark on another Indiana Jones adventure.

Army leaders have even joined the trend, opening its ranks to people formerly considered too old to join. Since June 2006, anyone from baby-faced 17-year-olds to well-seasoned 42-year-olds can now choose to serve.

And just about anyone at any age can, to borrow a phrase from Olivia Newton-John, get physical, even with a long-term condition like heart disease or diabetes. Physical activity may even help, according to the National Institute on Aging. Of course, for anyone about to embark on a fitness routine, the first step is to check with a doctor, particularly if there are health problems.

Sharp attributes her prescription-free medicine cabinet to a lifetime of fitness. “I’m a determined person,” she said. “I love to work out and keep fit, so I just do it.”

Each day, when these seniors make a choice to grab their running shoes versus the nearest rocking chair, they are not just keeping fit, but redefining for a younger generation the meaning of “old age.”

(Elaine Wilson works in the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNinety-two-year-old retired Army Lt. Col. Frank Rabell works his triceps during one of his daily workouts at the fitness center at Fort Sam Houston. Defense Dept. photo by Olivia Mendoza  
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