About half of the group members wear T-shirts designating them as Wade's Warriors. Three mornings each week, they gather to do battle against aging, illness, stiff joints and the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
Eleven people age 60 and up signed up last March for a free exercise class at Blythe Family Fitness. They've enlarged the circle of chairs around the basketball court — there are now 48 enrollees and there are nearly always more than 30 in attendance.
The class is supported by an aging and disability grant through Pratt County RSVP, instructor Wade Elwood said. The grant continues through August and then another one will keep the class going.
He teaches what he calls ADL — active daily living — exercises that target flexibility, core strength and balance. They're done seated in a chair, sometimes with resistance bands, against a wall for balance, exercising in place or walking laps — at whatever speed the participant can manage.
There's no pressure; you do what you can do, said Martha Hunter, one of the original 11, who has lost 14 pounds. She's also dieting, she said, and because she's converting fat to muscle, she's actually lost more in clothing sizes than in pounds.
Hunter said she has always been pretty active for her age and size, and up until a couple of years ago, was a regular on the walking path at Lemon Park. After two knee replacements, she can't do that any more, and she uses a cane for laps at the Blythe Center.
She's able to run in place to get her heart rate up; anyone who can't do that can walk in place, or sit down and move their feet — any exercise is better than none.
She could do the exercises at home, but probably wouldn't.
"It's just more fun having more people suffering along with me," she said, mopping her face with a towel.
"Wade makes it fun," Karen Smith said, mentioning the friendship and camaraderie of group members.
She recently had an appointment with her cardiologist to check on the stent in her heart. After a stress test, the doctor came into the examination room with a big smile — her numbers came in much better than they had a year ago, and he credited the three-times-a-week exercise routine.
Everybody in the class has a story, she said. Several have had knee replacements, some are cancer survivors, and one, who is currently taking chemotherapy, comes when she feels well enough.
Age is not an issue, except that participants must be at least 60. Elwood speculated that many are in their 70s or even upper 80s. The class is free, there's no commitment to come, except what participants place on themselves, and no gym membership is required. The class meets from 9 to 9:30 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.