This class is such a sweet and unique experience. The first thing I need to explain is how this class evolved out of the CARTI cancer well-fit program. That’s a program we ran for years in partnership with CARTI (Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute). The program allowed cancer patients who were undergoing chemo and radiation treatments to come exercise, which has been shown to be extremely helpful to patients in treatment.
Along with a free temporary membership, cancer well-fit participants also attended a specialized group fitness class. That class would use light weights and stretch bands to gently exercise bodies that were enfeebled by cancer and its treatment. That class was the precursor to “senior weights” and many of the current participants came to the Club as cancer patients. For instance, Wanda Smith, who came up after class to tell me that she had started in the Cancer Well-Fit program in 2001 and had been coming ever since. She’s 81 now and feeling pretty darn good and loves coming to this class.
Today’s class was all women. I asked them where the men were and they laughed and said there used to be a few guys but they’d run them all off. I seriously doubt that.
It was apparent that everyone really enjoyed the class and each other. They also clearly adore their instructor – Jeff Witherington.
At first glance, Jeff wouldn’t seem like the most likely candidate to be teaching this class. He’s a big bear of a man who knows a lot about strength training and weightlifting for competitive athletes. No doubt, had he so desired, Jeff could have been a college level strength coach and he looks the part. Instead, he’s a personal trainer at the LRAC and twice a week, leads the Sr. Weight class with his low-key, minimalist approach.
Jeff started with many of these ladies years ago when he used to lead the cancer well-fit classes along with Victoria High. He quite clearly has a soft spot in his heart for this group in the same way they do for him. His instructions are given in a short-hand that tells me these women have been coming to his class for some time. On several occasions I need to ask for some clarification so I’m on the same sheet of music.
While we’re doing our sets, which never lets up the whole class, Jeff fields and asks questions about American Idol, the Winter Olympics and tonight’s Razorback game among other subjects. Between groans and oomphs there is a steady banter about current events, the lingering winter weather and what sound to be some pretty good recipes. It’s easy to feel at home in a group like this in a hurry.
As our session wraps up, a number of the women come up to talk about the class and the Club and how much its meant to them. When everyone has finally left I realize again, for maybe the thousandth time, why I love what I do.
(The gift certificate for this class goes to Wanda Tapp.)