April 7, 2011 | by Kevin M. Norris
My 98-year-old inspiration

In the late summer of 2000, I fell in love with a woman who changed the way I not only looked at exercise, but how I viewed life. Her name was Evelyn May Wimmer, or just Granny, as I was immediately commanded to call her.

Granny began working with me at age 92 until she passed away five years ago at 98.

I think about her often and she is a constant reminder that you can make changes at any age and that exercise is crucial regardless of your age. Her memory inspires me and I hope her story will inspire you.

I began working with Granny and her daughter, Cynthia, in their home in the fall of 2000, before the opening of The Sports Club/LA in Washington, D.C. When I met Granny, she could barely walk because of extensive knee surgery after a bad fall in 1997 on the morning of her 90th birthday. Following the surgery, Granny received some physical therapy but hardly enough to bring her back to the level of strength and consequently, her range of motion was very limited. I knew we had some serious work ahead of us and I was confident that I could help Granny improve her quality of life and make her more comfortable and functional in her daily living. Granny was not quite as confident.

In fact, in the beginning, she was reasonably hesitant and intimidated. After all, we barely knew one another and she had limited trust in her own ability as well as mine.  Each step Granny took she met with trepidation and concern for falling again. Her fear was understandable, but I worked through those fears to encourage her to push herself and work hard – and that she did. With each session Granny grew increasingly enthused, felt less intimidated and grew more confident as we began to trust one another’s abilities and instincts.

I worked with Granny every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In six months, she went from barely walking three feet to tackling the entire circumference of the fitness floor at the sports club — a truly amazing feat.

But that was not enough. “Stairs? You have got to be kidding me,” Granny said the first time I mentioned them. I dismissed her doubts and encouraged her to try them after reassuring her that I would not let her fall. At first she held on to me for dear life and I was there to support her. Within months, I stood by as she tackled not one, but two flights on her own.

Stairs and walking are among the many accomplishments Granny achieved once she started exercising. She no longer needed help getting up from her chair and no longer used her walker to travel about her bedroom. In fact, she often forgot she had a walker.

Granny had two physical passions in life, dancing and swimming. She thought those days were part of her past and that she was not physically capable of doing either of those activities again. I helped prove her wrong. Soon after working with Granny we were in the pool, swimming with joy and freedom and my ultimate reward was her huge smile and contagious laughter. Dancing would take a little longer. The first time I told Granny she would dance again, she thought I was crazy, then a few months later, we had our first dance. Granny lit up with enthusiasm, and again I lit up with pride.

She would often question why I wanted to work with someone her age. “Aren’t you bored,” she would ask. “Hardly,” I would tell her. I almost felt guilty charging a fee for working with Granny because she had given so much back to me. Having lived for 98 years, Granny was full of fascinating stories that she graciously shared with me. What’s more, Granny had a wonderful sense of humor and had become so much more to me than just a client. She became family and I looked forward to each moment with her.

When we needed a new goal, we did not set limits. For her 95th birthday, Granny rode on the back of a motorcycle. We didn’t set limits, nor should anyone.

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