Before entering University in 1994 at Western, my parents gave me what I believe to be very sound advice: “Choose something you enjoy”. I do realize how lucky I am, as many people could only dream that their mother and father would tell them, ‘as long as you enjoy it!’. In keeping with this advice, it was a ‘no-brainer’. Well…. almost. There were actually two avenues sparked with passion and enjoyment for me: Fitness/Movement and Music. Other parents may have exclaimed ‘Gym and Music—really? A voice in my head alluded to that as well, and tried to talk me out of it. But my parents’ words resonated with me: “Do what you love”.
I knew then that I didn’t need to have all the answers about what would follow in life. I only had to take the first step. I chose to study what I love. In fact, I studied both of my loves, in the form of a concurrent Honours Kinesiology degree and a three-year Artist Diploma in Music Performance (voice). I loved my course load and was sufficiently challenged; from Biology to Music History, from Biomechanics to Sight Singing and Ear Training, from hockey to vocal master class. I still remember with a giggle my voice teacher (perhaps accurately pegging me as a jock), using sports analogies in our lessons to get the desired results. Once, when he wanted me to produce a fluid melodic line, he said ‘keep your stick on the ice!’. Even funnier: it actually worked.
There were other ways in which the pairing of Music and Kinesiology were synchronistic, particularly in the vein of psychology. In third year, I took Exercise Psychology which opened up my world. There was much research, I discovered, that supported the use of visualization in sport and exercise to achieve greater standings. I found that this was also true of Music, and applied the techniques learned by ‘practicing’ in my head if my voice was tired.
As I progressed through University happily and successfully for the first few years, I still didn’t know what my next step would be, but I figured it would come. In fourth year, my mind was further blown. ‘Physiology of Activity and Aging’ was the course. Anyone who had been at a Mustangs Football Game at Western at that time knew of Albert, a sort of honorary mascot for the team; an older gentleman in his early eighties that would run around the track several times each time the Mustangs scored a touchdown. Well this day in class, we looked at overheads of cross-sections of muscle fibres comparing those of Albert himself and those of young fit individuals. The findings were extraordinary! Essentially, there was no distinguishable difference. Albert’s muscles stayed young. The old ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy was confirmed. Eureka! Other studies to follow this research, such as one by Mark Tarnopolsky, PhD, and Simon Melov, PhD in 2007 at McMaster University, showed that older adults (70+) could make strength gains at the same percentage rate as young adults in their early twenties! Well this was enough for me. I had found my new focused passion and mission- Seniors’/Older Adult Fitness. This was rooted in the understanding that one can improve bone density, muscle strength and functionality at any age and stage, not simply maintain them as was commonly believed.
I made it my lifelong mission to tell as many people as possible the good news. “It’s not too late!” and “It never is”. My parents (not surprisingly) supported my mission, and even signed up to be my first guinea pigs. Being close to 60 years old at the time, they would qualify as mature adults. I need to tell you that I was granted an additional challenge for my exercise program design- my Dad is a paraplegic. I believe it was a gift for me to have extra factors to consider so early on in my career. It was a stepping stone contributing to my now evolved philosophy; not only is age not an impenetrable barrier to fitness success, but nothing is. In some capacity, everyone can do it. Everyone. I continue to enjoy the challenge of working with people with additional concerns or conditions, regardless of the number of them. My clients have thrived in my fitness programs amidst entering with challenges including: strokes, Alzheimer’s/dementia, heart disease, motor vehicle accidents, neurological conditions, falls, breaks, knee and hip replacements, other surgeries, sports injuries, arthritis, inactivity, osteoporosis, mental illness, addictions, cancer, depression, and paralysis.
Anyway, allow me to wrap up the story. The Centre for Activity and Aging- the most comprehensive research, training and outreach facility for Seniors Fitness in all of North America- happens to reside in London, Ontario. After completing my Degrees at Western, I stayed in London and worked through the courses at the CCAA to further complement my specialization. This included ‘Train the Trainer’, certifying me to teach the Seniors’ Fitness Instructor Course. I knew then (and know now, more than fifteen years later) what I would do; I would help as many people as possible know that they still can, and always can, improve and feel better through movement and fitness.