CODY — When Deb White, owner of Wyoming Sport and Fitness, noticed an issue with the strength and balance of her 90-year-old mother, she came up with a plan that could make a difference in the lives of not only her, but all seniors.
“I was looking for a quick win here,” White said. “Because I own the gym and run CAN (Change Attitudes Now), I thought of putting those two together.”
CAN, the local anti-drug program, owns and has access to some high-tech equipment she knew could help seniors.
White pulled together a physical therapist who runs an office out of her gym, a personal trainer from Wyoming Sport and Fitness and hit the senior center to recruit anyone looking at improving their strength and balance to help prevent injuries and improve lives.
“We thought we would start out with monthly assessments for anyone who would want to be assessed,” White said. “We started with a static balance test. Our physical therapist is doing a dynamic gate assessment and we are scoring them on their risk of falling.”
Seniors are also evaluated on inflammation, amount of muscle mass to weight and if they are strong enough to move that mass.
“We are assessing these seniors and offering them free strength classes designed by a certified strength coach here at the gym,” White said. “We’ve had seniors who have been coming in since March and they are practically pros. Here is my 90-year-old mother dead lifting 65 pounds. It’s just so much fun to see.”
What started out as a small group of seniors of about six or eight has doubled since the strength and balance program started earlier this year, and the results have been impressive.
“I had been coming to the gym for over a year and I couldn’t tell I was advancing,” Kathleen Jachowski said. “Since I started this class I have noticed the results. The trainers have been a big help in explaining how to breathe right and how to keep bones and muscles strong.”
The program started out as one class on Wednesday mornings and now is offered Friday mornings as well, and depending on the number of seniors showing up to participate, classes may be split into two classes each day with an additional trainer.
CAN is run entirely by a student board of directors, and this trimester three CAN members and student athletes at Cody High School happened to have an independent study during the morning classes and have volunteered to help.
Seniors Holly Spiering and Izzy Radakovich and junior Ally Boysen help run the various training and strength stations.
“It’s actually kind of crazy how much a lot of them have improved,” Spiering said. “And more and more people are showing up which is really cool.”
All three have told White they love it so much they would like to volunteer throughout the summer.
CAN is funding a portion of the program, Wyoming Sport and Fitness is donating the space and all of it relies on volunteers.
White said she is currently in the process of writing grants to help the program grow.
“My vision is to create a program that is replicable around the state of Wyoming,” White said. “I am a big believer in prevention. When a senior just fractures a hip from a fall, the chances of them being dead within a year are really high.”
Ultimately the senior wellness project will hopefully lead to active, independent, healthy lives in an aging population, a population Wyoming has seen an influx in.
The program is a positive social influence as well.
“I’m a gabber. I thought this was a coffee club,” member Irene Kepferle said. “This gym is below a pizza place and I came down here and said ‘I want some pizza.’”
For those seniors keeping track of health trends and willing to participate, the classes have been life-changing.
“I was always active but was never an exercise person before I retired,” Jachowski said. “But working with people who know what they are doing, my body is achieving more. My husband and I don’t want to be disabled in any way and put a burden on our families.”
Anyone interested in the program can contact the senior center or Wyoming Sport and Fitness to inquire about participating or volunteering.
“You start losing muscle mass early in life,” CAN representative Shabnam Kahn said. “Everything becomes more difficult when you lose that strength and balance. We want seniors to be safe and independent.”
It doesn’t hurt that the seniors are enjoying the training, learning and making friendly connections as well.
“I live alone and like to socialize,” Kepferle said. “I wear my neighbors out, the lawn boy out. The trainers are starting to hide from me when I come down the steps.”