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Guest column | James Pettican

Losing old-age shuffle was a good deal

I recently found myself starting gym class again, 80 years removed from the 8-year-old I was when I began my first one.

To put it mildly, I have changed, along with the rest of the world and gym class itself.

Back then, it was the rare grade school that had a separate "gymnasium." Instead, the playground usually filled the role of gym, and when it rained or snowed, gym did not take place that day. The term P.E. — for physical education — entered the language quite a few years later.

I was just another kid in my grade school gym class, and personal attention was the exception. This time, 21st century style prevailed. A young man introduced himself and said he would be my personal trainer.

His workplace is a vast building that houses what, to my generation, looks — at first — like some sort of machinery. But what would it produce? Instead of widgets or gadgets, it produces, I was told, "fit" people of all ages. Here, people labor daily at the machines and also have the option of watching TV screens as they labor.

Not everyone looks like an Olympic athlete, of course. There are all shapes and sizes of people, and those whose shape or size is nonconforming strive daily to change their contours and strengthen their muscles.

I was there because, having just observed my twin eights birthday, I noticed that my locomotion was deteriorating. I had three types of locomotion. One was walking, shuffle-style, un-aided but gingerly through territory I knew well. For strange territory with a few ups and downs, I had my choice of cane or walker. I used the cane for shorter strolls and the walker, complete with its own seat if needed, for longer slogs through theme parks, fairs, etc.

That first day, I expected to be taken right to some of the machinery and be instructed in its use. It didn't happen. My trainer had me lie on a table and we spent the whole hour stretching various muscles and tendons amid my jokes about the "modern version of the torture rack" and "maybe there's an opportunity for you at Gitmo." So, we did manage a few laughs.

The stretching continued for subsequent sessions until I began to see that I was loosening up, and my muscles seemed to be more in command of balance and direction. A triumph of sorts came the day I walked into the building without my cane and sans my shuffle. I joked that I was ready for a forehead gold star but had to settle for contemporary expressions ranging from "awesome" to "good job."

The real breakthrough came as I was able to break out of the "old-age shuffle" and walk normally when I put my mind to it.

Old-age shuffling has been around a long time. The Bard referred to it in "shuffled off this mortal coil" without mentioning a destination.

On TV recently, I noticed that the first President Bush has now reached the age of shuffling.

Maybe we should call it the geezer gallop.

Retired journalist James Pettican lives in Palm Harbor.

Losing old-age shuffle was a good deal 09/17/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 19, 2008 5:31pm]
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