Posts Tagged ‘fitness’

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!

Tai Chi Graduation Day

Today was a momentous day in my Tai Chi class.  Six months ago several of us joined a class for beginners.  There are 108 different “moves” done in a particular sequence, and we learned a few of the moves each week and repeated them endlessly, practicing stance and technique twice a week.  (Surprisingly, the class was never boring!)  Besides the newcomers, about 30 “regulars” who have been doing Tai Chi with this group for many years also participate.  The price is right: it’s free, although once a year we are asked for a $20 “donation,” and once a week people are asked to drop any unwanted food staples into a cardboard box; it’s given to the local food bank.

Today we finished learning the last of the 108 Tai Chi moves and after class, everyone was invited for pizza at a local diner (obviously not kosher) for a graduation celebration.  (I ordered hot water in a disposable cup – – I had even brought my own teabag!)  Besides receiving our diplomas, each graduate  was asked to speak about what they had gained from the class.  The instructor was hoping for some life-changing stories about people who improved their mobility or balance, but the truth is, Tai Chi takes years to master (just because you know the moves doesn’t mean you have finesse), and because it’s a slow-moving, deliberate exercise, the benefits are initially subtle at best.  So when it was my turn to speak, this is what I said:

I originally joined the Tai Chi class because I was diagnosed with osteoporosis, and I wanted to optimize my balance to prevent falls.  But what I really gained from the class was a totally unexpected surprise.

A few years ago, I was a caretaker for my elderly mother and mother-in-law.  It was a very stressful time for me, and filled me with heartache.  When it was all over, I felt like I had aged 10 years, both mentally and physically.  But the worst thing was my attitude:  I dreaded old age to such a degree, that the very notion of aging was depressing and terrifying and I could not imagine how I could ever face it.

The great thing about this class is seeing so many older people living vibrant, active lives.  I’m sure you all have your share of aches and pains, and some of you have serious health problems.  But to see you arrive at class week after week, volunteering your time and expertise to help newcomers, driving long distances in rain, sleet and snow to be part of this experience, is a wondrous thing.  Many of you are in your eighties and nineties, yet I can only envy your vitality!  You are never without a smile or a kind word or positive attitude; you are so full of grace.  You have taught me that getting older doesn’t have to be a curse or something horrific.  None of you are victims of your age, you are celebrants.  I just want to thank everyone here for being such a positive influence, because you really have helped change my life and outlook for the better.

You can check out my Tai Chi class website at