June 9, 2010

CANADA: Fit Fellas

VANCOUVER, British Columbia / Northshore Outlook / Lifestyles / June 9, 2010

By Justin Beddall - North Shore Outlook

You don’t have to be in great shape to join Fit Fellas, but you do need to be at least 60.

Of course, most of the club’s 130 members who meet to exercise at the West Van community centre each week are much older than that.

Thirty of them have been dubbed “senior senators” because they are 80 or older. The oldest fitness club participant is a spry 91-year-old. Two others are 90.

“We have a good time. It’s the greatest group of guys,” says Fit Fellas manager and instructor Barrie Chapman, who began volunteering with the group 10 years ago after retiring from Telus.

Chapman, a fit-looking 71-year-old with a drill sergeant’s lungs, and the club’s other instructor Louis Vulliez, put the group through lively one-hour workouts that include aerobics, strength training, flexibility, coordination, balance and stretching.

“It gets me out doing exercise and keeps me reasonably fit,” explains Bob Clark, a retired engineer who joined the group about a decade ago after his wife told him he needed to get some exercise.

Clark is now 75. “And I’m one of the young guys,” he jokes.

Of course, with the fitness comes a lot of fun.

“Oh, (there’s) a lot of joking around,” he says.

During Tuesday’s class, for instance, as a car alarm sounded outside, Chapman, the group’s instructor, asked if the beeping was somebody’s pacemaker going off.

After the workouts most of the participants head over to the senior’s centre for $1 coffee. And if it’s your birthday, you have to buy the entire group cinnamon buns.

Of course, while the club is primarily about “active aging” – which provides huge health benefits for the participants – it is also about camaraderie and support.

Chapman notes that there’s not a disease, heartache or set-back that hasn’t been experienced by at least a few other members. So, if somebody is going through anything from cataracts to losing a spouse there’s always a built in “support group.”

The group, which has been praised in university studies, began in 1987 when West Van parks and rec manager Frank Kurucz hired Terry Connolly, a fitness instructor from the Vancouver YMCA to run a class for seniors two times a week.

Now the group has five classes a week. When they’re not exercising or telling stories, the group gets together for annual trips to Bowen Island and Whistler, volunteers at the seniors centre and helps with local fundraising initiatives.

Says Chapman: “You can’t play golf seven days a week.”

Then, upon reflection, adds, “Well, I guess you can ... that’s why the class is in the morning.”

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