Older and having more fun than ever

Karen Frost holds a pedometer that keeps track of her steps

Don’t ever try to tell Bill Barber and Tim Thornton that seniors
should take it easy in their

golden years.

Forget about suggesting to Dolores Corrales, Ann Jaszewski and
Fern Colyer that a slow walk around the block is enough exercise


Don’t ever try to tell Bill Barber and Tim Thornton that seniors should take it easy in their “golden years.” Forget about suggesting to Dolores Corrales, Ann Jaszewski and Fern Colyer that a slow walk around the block is enough exercise for “mature” women.

Hollister’s Barber, 84, windsurfs for fun. Morgan Hill’s Thornton, 67, competes in open ocean swimming events. And, the Gilroy trio of Corrales, Jaszewski and Colyer, each in their late 70s or mid-80s, keep up a roster of activities that would exhaust a much younger person.

While it may be true that Americans, in general, are less fit and less active than they used to be, these seniors are going the other way, engaging in extreme sports or exercise regimens that would challenge people decades their junior. In the process, these folks are changing perceptions about the limitations that seniors encounter as they get older.

In fact, these seniors are generally more active than they were 40 years ago. For them, the sporting life began at 50.

Barber enjoys windsurfing

Barber, who has lived in Hollister for about a decade, spent years as a San Jose restaurateur, and said he worked so much that he had little time for exercise.

Then, at age 50 in 1970, Barber began running 10Ks, including the Bay to Breakers in San Francisco and the Wharf to Wharf in Santa Cruz, to stay in shape. Barber said that opened his athletic horizons and introduced him to the fun and benefits of staying active.

When running competitively wasn’t enough, Barber added a new, more adventurous sport to his repertoire. At the age of 65 in 1985, he saw some windsurfers whipping around on the water. Intrigued, Barber took lessons at Almaden Reservoir and has been enjoying the sport on and off ever since.

“When I got a chance to do this I jumped at it,” Barber said.

Barber, who owns a full complement of windsurfing equipment, including boards, masts, sails and harnesses, said he mostly windsurfs on San Luis Reservoir in Merced County and San Justo in San Benito County during the warmer months of the year these days. But he has logged time on the waves in many different places, from San Francisco Bay to Lake Tahoe, and from Hawaii to the Caribbean.

Barber has participated in the Hi-Ho (Hook In and Hang On) Meet for windsurfers who like to skim over the open ocean while being followed by trimarans to make sure they don’t get lost. On San Francisco Bay, Barber likes windsurfing off Coyote Point and Shoreline Park. But he said, without a touch of irony, that it’s essential to be relatively cautious and avoid potentially dangerous situations on the choppy, unpredictable Bay waters.

“Considering my age, I have to watch out for my safety,” he said. “I could get caught in the wind and sent under the Golden Gate bridge into the open ocean, and have to get rescued. I have been caught in a corner (of the bay) and had to be towed back in. That’s pretty embarrassing.”

In all seriousness, the man with the shock of slowly receding gray hair who has a tendency toward wearing warmups and athletic shoes calls windsurfing “fairly relaxing” and said he doesn’t do the “extreme” form of the sport, which he describes as including the high-flying jumps off big waves.

However, Barber admits that his wife, Judy, is only tolerant of his predilection for a sport most younger people are too cautious to even attempt.

“She thinks I’m crazy, but she says whatever floats your boat,” Barber said. “I just got tired of sitting in front of the boob tube.”

But Judy Barber’s tolerance only stretches so far, he added.

“I looked at hang-gliding seriously but my wife put her foot down and said no,” he said.

Barber, who quit competitive running about four years ago, also snow skis and hikes. He stays in shape for his athletic pursuits by working out regularly at Rovella’s Gym and Health Spa in Hollister.

Thornton gets back in the water

Thornton, who moved to Morgan Hill in the early 1960s, grew up swimming in the ocean off the coast of Washington state. He swam competitively in high school and for four years at the University of Washington.

After graduating from UW with his master’s in 1961, Thornton accepted a teaching and coaching position at Live Oak High School. In fact, Thornton began both the Live Oak swim program, arriving just as the old high school swimming pool was being finished (at what is now Britton Middle School near downtown Morgan Hill), and the Morgan Hill Swim Club.

For about seven seasons at Live Oak (he moved to Branham High in San Jose in 1967) and more than that with the MH Swim Club, Thornton coached kids from some of the best-known names in Morgan Hill, including the Alters, the Aglers, the Lantzes, the Links, the Minomis, the Sparlings and the Yokois, among others.

But in all that time, Thornton never continued his competitive swimming career. That is, until about 18 years ago, when at the age of 50 he was asked to compete in the ocean swimming portion of a triathlon relay. He said he was so winded that he decided he needed to start training.

“I had been out of the water for 30 years,” Thornton said.

For a decade after that, Thornton competed with a triathlon relay team that included such well-known Morgan Hill names as Bob Thompson, Jose Garcia and Ron Griswold.

It was also in the late-1980s that Thornton and ex-Olympic medalist Lynn Vidali Gautschi started a masters swim program. That put Thornton back in the pool.

After ending his triathlon career, Thornton kept competing in open ocean swimming, and became one of the top age group swimmers in the famed Alcatraz Shark Fest. The race, which includes a 1.5-mile course from Alcatraz to San Francisco, became Thornton’s personal playground, and he has won his age group every year he’s competed. Even more impressive, he finishes in the top 5 percent of all swimmers.

These days, in addition to conducting triathlon clinics, the lean and athletic, 5-11, 170-pound man whose age is only hinted at by his graying, thinning hair stays in shape for his competitive exploits by swimming 4,000 yards per day four to five days per week and doing interval training.

“If you want to be really competitive, like anything, you have to put the work in,” he said. “For me, it’s all just for my own enjoyment. I like to be able to eat what I want and be able to keep my body in shape.”

Thornton and his wife, Marianne, whose kids are triathletes and marathoners, also travel to exotic locales, such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, Baja California, Africa and Europe, as well as Lake Tahoe. On their travels, the active couple enjoys scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, mountain biking, and water and snow skiing.

“I like to keep (my) kids thinking that you don’t have to turn into couch potatoes when you turn 40,” he said.

Thornton said staying active is an essential part of staying healthy into one’s senior years, adding that taking the right approach to keeping fit is paramount.

“You need to find something you really enjoy doing, and if you can find something you like to do with your significant other, so much the better,” he said. “But you have to start slow. So many people make resolutions to get in shape and they (exercise) for a little while and then they quit. You don’t want to try to do too much.”

Line dancing invigorates Gilroy women

Three Gilroy women have found their active stride since turning 50. Corrales, Jaszewski and Colyer show off their moves as leads at the Gilroy Senior Center’s free line dancing classes. The trio met during line dancing class at the Senior Center years ago and have been friends who have become regulars in the class ever since.

While the 79-year-old Corrales said she turned to line dancing as a source of “exercise and sociability,” she maintains an active lifestyle in addition to her exploits on the dance floor. She also bowls in a women’s league, walks three miles five days a week, and participates in senior aerobics twice a week. All that activity helps her stay in shape for her occasional swing dancing outings, too, though she said, swing partners are hard to find these days.

“It gives me something to do,” Corrales said. “It has kept me active after I was widowed and my kids moved away.”

Jaszewski, 84, said she took up line dancing when her husband, Dave, with whom she won ballroom dancing awards, died. She’s been dancing for 18 years. She also stays active by walking an average of six to eight miles per day with a group that occasionally goes on jaunts from Gilroy to Morgan Hill, along with participating in two exercise classes and daily gardening chores. She also serves as “team mom” for a dance group of 50-somethings.

And, her advice for fellow seniors looking for hints on how to stay in shape? Simple.

“Keep moving,” the former Pollyanna Bakery owner said. “Diet and exercise are the most important things.”

Choosing a Pedometer

Lisa Leonard, personal trainer, said there are a few basic steps to take when increasing daily activity by walking or jogging.

• Avoid injury by starting off slowly. Any new exercise plan should be cleared with a physician to reduce potential injury caused by additional pressure on joints such as ankles, knees or hips.

Find a good pair of exercise shoes, preferably a running shoe with plenty of cushion.

Start out by wearing the pedometer each day for two weeks and don’t do anything to change a normal routine. Before going to bed, record the number of steps at the end of each day for the entire two-week period. At the end of the second week, take a look at how many steps you are taking each day in the course of normal life.

• For the next two-week period, increase the number of steps on a daily basis to the highest number of steps from the previous week.

• At the end of that two-week period, review the progress and add more steps.

• Continue that way, adding steps every two-week period, until reaching the goal of 10,000 steps a day.

• Remember to consult with a physician about any pain or discomfort.

According to Leonard, the benefits of regular activity such as walking includes:

• Increasing and maintaining bone density and preventing osteoporosis.

• Improving mental acuity.

• Reducing the risk of various cancers (including colon, breast, uterine), stroke, diabetes, heart attack, heart disease and arthritis.

• Reducing stress.

• Improving blood circulation.

• Increasing energy and endurance levels.

• Improving weight management and body appearance.

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