Until 120

Mazel Tov!  Mary blows out the candles on her cake.

Mazel Tov! Mary Shofer blows out the candles on her cake.

Through physical labor (working our land) and recreational activities (hiking, walking, kayaking and Tai Chi) I am committed to improving my stamina and physical health.  But now that I am back in my home town for the next 30 days following the death of my brother-in-law,  so that my husband can say kaddish with a minyan, I had to figure out a way to stay physically active.  Other than obligatory dog-walking, the high heat and humidity of my home town in summer makes outdoor activities unbearable.   So I decided to join the gym closest to my house, which happens to be a senior fitness center.

Although I am one of its youngest members, this is not a gym for wimps.  There are plenty of seniors in their eighties and nineties using not only bikes and treadmills, but also the weightlifting equipment.  But no one is the equal of Mary Shofer.

“Are you coming to Mary’s surprise birthday party this Friday?” one of the trainers asked me.  Mary is a regular at the gym.  She comes five days a week, starting with the recumbent bike, where she pedals for 45 minutes without a break at a vigorous clip.  From there she does the entire strength-training circuit, using all the weight machines.  What makes it unique is that Mary is about to celebrate her 105th birthday.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Mary is one hundred five years old!

Mary worked full-time until she was 98.  She does not even wear glasses.  She walks unaided. Her face is mostly unlined; her hair is thick and cut in the latest style.  She does have an aide who drives her around town, but at night she lives independently.  Usually after her visit to the gym, she goes home for lunch and a short rest, and then she goes for a walk.  But not on Fridays.   “After the gym, I have to get ready for Shabbos!”  She does all her own cooking and is happy to discuss her menu:  gefilte fish, chicken soup, brisket and kugel.  She then shares several of her recipes.

While she has clearly won the gene pool lottery (her sister is 99 and also going strong), there is one thing you notice immediately about Mary:  she radiates simcha (joy).  Her cornflower blue eyes sparkle; she is always smiling and her laugh is infectious.  Somehow when you talk to Mary at the gym, you stand a little straighter, exercise a little harder, kvetch a lot less, and soon, you are laughing, smiling, and feeling a whole lot happier, too.

Surpise!  Accompanied by her daughter, Mary enters the gym on the eve of her 105th birthday

Surprise! Accompanied by her daughter, Mary enters the gym on the eve of her 105th birthday

Surrounded by senior groupies in their eighties who were nonetheless 20 years her junior, Mary was completely surprised by her many well-wishers, including her daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren .

Surrounded by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and aide,  who says, "I can't keep up with Miss Mary!"

Surrounded by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and aide, who says, “I can’t keep up with Miss Mary!”

She gave an interview to a local TV news station who came to report this remarkable milestone – – while pedaling away  on the exercise bike.  (You can watch that video by clicking here.)

Mary on her bike

Mary on her bike

A Jewish blessing commonly given on someone’s birthday is, “May you live until 120.”  According to Deuteronomy 34:7, Moses lived until that age, and “his eye had not dimmed, and his vigor had not diminished.”   G-d willing, Mary Shofer is, bli ayin hara, well on her way to fulfilling that blessing, while enriching the lives of those around her.  Mazel Tov!

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