By Dedra Cordle
Placed in a prime spot on the refrigerator in Charlie and Kay Herron’s home is a photograph of the couple surrounded by all of the friends they made in the Silver Sneakers program in Middleburg Heights.
Ever since the duo turned 65 – the age most older adults qualify for the free health and wellness program through their insurance provider – they had spent much of their free time with these friends at their favorite recreation facility in the northeast region, playing catch up as they walked around the premises or danced the afternoon away in a special aerobics class.
“Being a part of Silver Sneakers was a lot of fun because not only did it help us stay active, but it also got us out there making new friends and acquaintances all of the time,” said Kay Herron. “Sometimes when you get older and retire, those socialization opportunities go away so becoming involved with Silver Sneakers was a great way to make and keep connections.”
When the Herron’s decided to move to Grove City last year, they worried they would not be able to find the same support system they had while living in the Cleveland area.
Although they were able to find locations throughout the region since Silver Sneakers is a nationwide program that has a presence in more than 15,000 gyms and recreation centers, they did not feel quite at home at any of them.
“They were nice but I really prefer just to walk now,” said Kay. “This one place I went to had a nice indoor walking path but it was surrounded by equipment which made it feel too cramped.”
Through a newly formed group of friends in their subdivision, they learned that the Vaughn E. Hairston Southwest Community Center had recently opened its doors to members of the Silver Sneakers program. Desperately wanting a place to walk indoors in the winter, Charlie and Kay decided to give it a try.
What they discovered was a growing and “welcoming” community where they feel comfortable attending – even if they do not have a designated indoor walking path. (The perimeter of the gymnasium makes for a good step count, they found.)
They said they hope to be able to place new pictures of new friends on their refrigerator in the near future.
“This is a good place to be,” said Charlie.
Although the community center in the village of Urbancrest has been open to the public since September, the facility only started to accept members of the Silver Sneakers program last month. Due to low, but steadily growing, enrollment numbers, the facility cannot offer instructor-led classes at this time. Instead, what they do offer is access to a weight room, a game room, the gymnasium where members can play basketball or pickleball, and their aquatics center.
Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. noted that there are plenty of chairs and comfortable seats around for those who just want to sit and chat and play cards.
“We want this place to be a place where social needs are met, not just physical ones,” he said. “And if that means seniors just want to come here to sit around and chat while eating doughnuts and playing cards, then they can do that, too.”
Among those who have found a fitness and social home away from home are Grove City residents Tammy and Dan Davitz.
The couple, who have been together for more than 40 years, came to the center when it opened last fall but started to access the facility more when Dan qualified for the Silver Sneakers program last month.
He said that although he has always tried to eat healthy and be active, he has made it a priority to continue down that path as he ages.
“I think it is important to maintain your fitness levels because when you get older you become less and less flexible and start to become unable to do the things you want to do,” said Davitz.
For instance, his father had limited range of motion in his neck, making it nearly impossible to drive because he could not safely turn in order to look for oncoming traffic while changing lanes.
“It became dangerous and I would like to be able to continue to do all the things I want to do for as long as possible,” he said.
For her part, Tammy is not yet at the age where she can qualify for Silver Sneakers but she became a member of the community center to exercise with her husband, play pickleball, and access the aquatics center.
She noted her love for the therapeutic pool and the small water aerobics group that has formed since it opened.
“With water aerobics, we can get in and do exercises and movements that we really can’t do outside of the water because of its buoyancy,” said Tammy. “I just did 200 jumping jacks in the pool but there is no way I could do that on the ground. I also just did 100 lunges in the pool and there is no way I could do that on the ground.”
She said she has been trying to get her husband to join in on the informal aquatics workouts but has thus far been unsuccessful.
“I don’t want to go in the pool and exercise with the ladies,” he said.
“Well, maybe start your own group with all men,” she quipped. “Whatever you do, you have to get in there.”
Teasing aside, Tammy said being a member of the Silver Sneakers program or a member of the community center has provided plenty of motivation to get out, get active, and make new friends along the way.
“I have an autoimmune disease and there are some days where I just want to sit and stay at home because of my joint pain and other issues I am dealing with because of it,” she said. “I have decided not to do that because I know that I would deteriorate and I want to be around for my family, my friends, my grandkids, and all of our adventures to come.”
Although most Silver Sneakers members participate when the doors open, the hours of operation for all members and those who purchase a day pass are from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. The aquatics center is open only on Tuesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. when there is a lifeguard on duty. Monthly membership fees for Urbancrest residents are $15 for youth (ages 10-16); $30 for adults (ages 17-61); and $25 for seniors (ages 62 and older). Monthly membership fees for non-residents are $20 for youth (ages 10-16); $35 for adults (ages 17-61); and $25 for seniors (62 and older). Insurance providers cover the cost of membership fees for senior citizens if available on their individual plan.