Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series on fitness and how it can benefit you.
Tom Muhlbeier can shimmy up a rope faster than most men half his age.
The task was just a taste of what the 60-year-old Pasco man had to accomplish on his way to finishing ninth in the Masters Men division (60 and older) at the Reebok CrossFit Games last weekend in Madison, Wisc.
“Tom is amazing,” said Shane Arnott, owner of Aegis CrossFit in Pasco, where Muhlbeier works out. “He is the first one here in the morning. He has life goals and a passion for what he does. He found the right program and the right training partner and has never looked back.”
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Muhlbeier certainly lies at the extreme of staying active later in life. But no matter your fitness level, it’s important to keep your body moving.
“Walk, walk, walk. It’s one of the best exercises you can do,” said Kennewick physical therapist Deanna Dreier. “Get on a program that you can do all year round.”
I used to be a sex symbol, now I’m just an inspiration.
Marian Smith, 88, who enjoys working out and being social at the gym
Richland couple Sandi Flower and Wayne Osmundson, who are in their 70s, are diligent about their fitness regimen.
“Being active is part of our lives. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Flower said, who noted that they take classes at an area gym, stroll through their neighborhood and swim in their community pool.
From fitness to CrossFit fanatic
Muhlbeier, a 1975 Connell High graduate, was a standout athlete with the Eagles and played a year of college football at Pacific Lutheran University.
He hasn’t slowed down.
“I think it is super important for people to stay active,” he said. “So many people my age give up and sit on the couch. No one will live forever, but we can prolong the good years. It’s so important to keep moving.”
Muhlbeier, who works for a farm consulting company, worked out at LifeQuest Fitness in Pasco with Arnott, but when Arnott announced he was going to open a CrossFit gym, Muhlbeier tagged along.
“I had been gravitating toward high-intensity workouts, and Shane was a trainer there,” Muhlbeier said. “He is so motivating. That’s what makes CrossFit fun — the people you work out with.”
Muhlbeier credits his training partner, Amy Hill, for helping prepare him for the CrossFit Games, and his wife Becki, for taking care of everything from his meals to driving to the event everyday so that he could focus on the job at hand.
“The qualification process starts in February with the Masters Open, where you are judged and videotaped,” Muhlbeier said. “The top 200 move on to the Masters Qualifier, from which only 20 move on to the (national) games. I have done the open and the qualifier the past four years, but this is the first time I made it to the games.”
For the most part, competitors have an idea of what they will be up against at the games in terms of obstacles, but the directors always throw a curveball to keep everyone on their toes.
For Muhlbeier, that was the run-swim-run event on the first day of the competition, comprised of two 1 1/2-mile runs sandwiched around a 500-meter swim.
“Two weeks prior to the games I was a mess,” Muhlbeier said. “That run-swim-run, they didn’t announce that until then. July 14 was the first time I had swam more than 30 meters, and I had to do 500 meters. Credit to my swim coach (Brooke Childers) at LifeQuest, she got me ready for that.”
Over the course of the weekend, Muhlbeier worked his way through eight events, with his top mark (second) coming in the front squat, in which he lifted 302 pounds.
“The really cool thing about it, when you are there, you are in competition with all of those guys,” Muhlbeier said. “But there was none the trash talk, it was super supportive. Like you are just brothers.”
Keep moving for a healthier lifestyle
While Muhlbeier is on the go and leads a healthy and mobile lifestyle, others may not or cannot.
When that happens, they tend to wind up on the doorstep of a doctor or physical therapist, like Dreier, who works at Court Club Physical Therapy in Kennewick.
Dreier sees everything from muscle weakness to incontinence issues on a daily basis, but she offered some helpful information to keep your visits to her office to a minimum.
▪ Aquatic therapy. “If you have arthritis, the warm water and movement helps keep your joints lubricated,” she said.
▪ Make it a habit. “Keep moving. Being in better physical shape will help you in every day life,” Dreier said. “When you are healthy and active, but you have a medical issue such as cancer or surgery, your body will handle the medical treatment better. If you need to have a joint replaced and will need to use a walker, consult a physical therapist or trainer to improve your upper body strength. You will need it to be able to use the walker.”
Court Club Physical Therapy also offers a free consultation. They will screen your balance to see if you are at risk for falling, and assess any other issues.
“Medicare covers physical therapy,” Dreier said. “They can access it and use it.”
People who lead active lives do so for one reason or another, but Dreier said in her experience, they fall into three categories.
“People have a fear of falling,” she said. “When you are active, you don’t have that fear. People who stay active tend to do it with other people. Social interaction is important. There is a fear of being put in a home. The more active you are, the more you are able to function in your environment. You have a say where you live and how you live.”
88 and going strong
Marian Smith of Kennewick turned 88 years young in April. She has never been one to sit still. She was a tomboy of sorts growing up, working in the asparagus fields in high school and riding horses.
“We didn’t have television back them,” Smith said. “You made your own fun.”
Smith and her late husband, Richard, started working out in their 70s. She has met so many people that they have become her inner circle.
“The gym is a social aspect for me,” said Smith, who has four children, 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, with another one on the way. “It’s important to me. It’s like a family. I know I am better off because I do work out. I see some of my friends and I think, ‘oh, my.’ ”
A fellow gym member, who could not believe Smith was 88, told her she was an inspiration. Smith in turn replied with a twinkle in her eye, “I used to be a sex symbol, now I’m just an inspiration.”
Trying something new
Flower had never been to a gym before she started going seven years ago with a friend who had fibromyalgia. After two months, she was hooked. Her friend was unable to continue.
Flower, 72, forged ahead, meeting new people and getting healthy.
“The light bulb went off for me,” she said. “I used to help the elderly, and the ones who were active did better. It’s also a good stress reliever.”
Along her track to better health, Flower met Osmundson, 70, in a swim class at Gold’s Gym in Kennewick. They struck up a friendship and now have been happily married for three years.
“We were friends first — neither of us were looking,” Flower said. “Now, everything we do, we love doing together.”
The couple attends the gym 4-6 days a week, and participate in classes such as Young at Heart, Body Vive and Body Pump.
“I can’t do some things I used to,” Osmundson said, “but I’m healthy.”
And Flower is fighting the good fight right beside him.
“I am in better shape than I was when I was in my 40s,” she said. “I have more energy and I feel stronger, especially since I started taking Body Pump. I had varicose vein surgery in both thighs in May and June, and I was back in the gym in a week. I told the doctor, I am not your typical 72-year-old.”