Not content to sit on the sidelines

By Chelsea Retherford | Living 50 Plus

Pam Kirkland, who turned 72 in April, checked another item off her bucket list when she led 12 members of her family, including grandchildren and great grandchildren, on a strenuous hike down to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Kirkland isn’t just thrilled that she gets to take trips like this every year — some with a group of friends about her age and some with her family. She’s grateful she doesn’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch her grandchildren have all the fun.

Kirkland said that’s all thanks to her maintaining an active lifestyle well past her 40s and 50s.

“I’m thankful that I was capable, and you can do that if you keep it up,” she said. “It’s quality time with your children and grandchildren. Now, you know, I’m watching my great grandchildren come up. My first one, at age two, is already out hiking with a pole in his hand.”

In her first day of the Havasu hike, Kirkland said she conquered 52,000 steps, but it’s no wonder she was capable to those who see her in aerobics classes every week at the Broadway Recreation Center in Florence.

“Pam is the echelon of exercise,” Patty Wilson said. “She’s our leader, and she’s the one we aspire to be like.”

Wilson and Deb Peck, both 70, attend aerobics classes at Broadway four days a week. While they aren’t in Kirkland’s low-impact aerobics class, they workout alongside her in the aerobics class led by Linda Clanton.

Most days, Kirkland will attend the class led by Clanton, and with just 15 minutes or so in between, she’s back in the gym leading a group of 60- to 90-year-olds in low-impact aerobics.

She said the second class is for those who can’t do some of the more arduous movements students in Clanton’s class perform.

“If someone has an injury and can’t do the regular, more high-impact classes, they will come to mine and rehab until they are able to get back into the other. Most everyone in my class is in their 60s and 80s.”

Kirkland said she leads the classes, not only to help others, but because it also keeps her feeling young and healthy.

“There are days she doesn’t feel well, but she does not let it stop her,” Wilson said. “She presses through and motivates us to do what we do. I know there are days she doesn’t feel like being here. Once you get through that door and you move, you do feel better going out.”

Kirkland said she believes that is also the case for many of the ladies who attend her workout class. Many of them, she said, are gradually able to increase the level of weights they use in the workouts, and some gain better mobility over time.

“The first step through the door is the hardest,” Kirkland said. “Over time, I can see the ladies I teach getting stronger. They start to move their joints more freely. It’s really amazing to see them be able to do things that others would say they shouldn’t be able to do — but they’re doing it.”

Kirkland said adding even a little bit of exercise into a person’s daily routine can help improve their quality of life in leaps and bounds.

Besides improving ranges of motion and balance, she said aerobics also helps attendants maintain and even build muscle and bone mass. Kirkland herself was diagnosed as having osteoporosis a few years ago, but she said even after experiencing some pretty hard falls, she hasn’t broken any bones.

Kirkland remembers having a lady in class who had been told that she was on her way into a wheelchair if she didn’t work more movement into her life.

“She has been (in class) ever since, and she is still capable of doing stand-up aerobics,” Kirkland said. “She’s obviously doing well.”

Though Kirkland has been physically active, and maintained her fitness, since she was in high school, she said that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case for others her age who do want to gain more of their mobility back.

“Everybody can do something, and you can build on that,” she said.

Kirkland was an athlete who ran track and played volleyball in high school. Following graduation, after she got married, she admits she put her physical activity on the back burner after she had her first two children, Terry Kirkland and Leslie Kirkland Thorn.

Before she had her youngest daughter and son, Leah Kirkland Frith and Josh Kirkland, she decided to enroll in an exercise class, which is how she got involved at Broadway Recreation Center in the first place.

“I attended for a bit, and when the instructor quit, they all turned to me and said, ‘You can do this,’” Kirkland said. “I took the job because at least it paid my gas there and back.”

Kirkland said she enjoyed leading aerobics at the rec center but, eventually, she also gave it up while her family moved away for mission work for a stint. At that point, Kirkland said Clanton had agreed to take over her class.

When Kirkland and her family returned to Florence, she took a job with Gold’s Gym and the Courthouse Racket Club, which have both since closed.

About 10 years or so ago, she found her way back to the Broadway Center and took up the low-impact class alongside Clanton. Kirkland also now teaches a low-impact exercise class to dementia and Alzheimer’s patients at Green Oaks Inn, an assisted living facility in Florence.

“It’s something I love, and I am glad that I got into,” Kirkland said. “Obviously, I’m still working, and I want to keep doing it as long as I possibly can, because it does help me stay young.”