Meet the local seniors proving when it comes to good health, age is just a number

Exercising. Some of us love it. Some of us dread it. But, we all know it’s important. And as you age, the importance of working out becomes even more paramount. Luckily, in Northern Virginia there are plenty of opportunities to get moving well into your golden years.

senior woman doing parkour
Nancy Lorentz, founder of PK Move (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

“You’re never too old to work out,” says Bryant Johnson, and don’t try to convince him otherwise.

The Northern Virginia-based personal trainer is best known for working with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for over 20 years and through her four cancer diagnoses. He even released The RBG Workout, a book dedicated to the same hip rotations, calf stretches and tricep presses Ginsburg does during their training sessions.

And with dozens of clients across the DMV, including other cancer survivors and members of the U.S. government, he knows a thing or two about helping an aging population get into shape.

“[With the older population], it’s about empowering them and letting them know that there isn’t anything they can’t do,” says Johnson. “Any excuse will do, if you want to come up with excuses. ‘I’m too busy to work out.’ [Ginsburg] is a Supreme Court Justice. You think she has it easy? You can’t make somebody do it for you.”

Your workout doesn’t have to be crunches, push-ups and burpees either. You just have to move, says Johnson. “Do something. What do you like to do? Do you like dancing? Do that. Just start dancing. You like to swim? Go swim. You like to walk? Walk the dog.”

But, just like RBG, there are some local seniors who go well beyond taking a stroll with their dog or hitting up a morning water aerobics class (though those are both great ways to get in your sweat session).

Helen White is the director of the largest pickleball tournament in the DC region. Leonard Kalkwarf has grabbed gold medals from the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics in events he never imagined competing in. Nancy Lorentz fell in love with parkour, and now teaches it to Northern Virginia seniors to help with balance, coordination and strength. They’re all sharing their fitness secrets on the following pages—and proving you’re never too old to aim high with your fitness goals.

bryant johnson with ruth bader ginsburg
NoVA-based Bryant Johnson is the trainer behind Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s
famous workouts—and he’s got advice for all seniors looking to stay in shape. (Photo by Abby Greenawalt)

What’s Johnson’s favorite part about working with older clients? Inspiring them.

“Making them realize that they can do the things they thought they couldn’t. There’s a realization that they really can do this,” says Johnson. “Seniors know that you wouldn’t be a senior if you hadn’t been through some things, through the tough trials and tribulations of life. You’ve been able to adjust to that and adapt to life. So because of that, all exercise is really trying to do is just to improve your quality of life and maintain your quality of life, and ensure you have a sense of independence.”

Bryant Johnson’s 5 Keys to Health

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fitness trainer shares how he motivates his senior clients to stick with their exercise routines.

“You will look for the reason in all of this [working out] and you have to be committed. If you’re committed, you’re making it happen.”

“You’re gonna have good days, you’re gonna have bad days. You have to be resilient.”

“When I say courage, you have to have the courage of some kind to say no to the temptation. That’s a variable. Even friends and family can tempt you and say, ‘You know, you don’t need to be out there, it’s too cold for you to be walking,’ so sometimes you have to have the courage to stand up to that temptation and say no.”

“Understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Don’t just do CrossFit because you see somebody else doing it.”

“Sometimes you just gotta tough it out, you know?”

helen white
Helen White (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

Helen White

No one is more surprised than Helen White at the influence one sport has had on her life—a sport she didn’t start playing until she was in her 50s. “I noticed a few people in their 70s and 80s who were hitting balls over a net on a small court,” says White, 66. “One of the 80-plus-year-olds offered to teach me and gave me my first paddle.”

From then on, pickleball became a force in White’s life. The indoor-outdoor sport uses a paddle and merges elements from tennis, badminton and pingpong. Her list of accolades are extensive. She became a USA Pickleball Association Ambassador for Northern Virginia (and now directs over 20 local ambassadors in the region). She became a Professional Pickleball Registry Certified Instructor (and has taught nearly 3,000 people), and holds over 50 medals in local, state and national competitions. She’s also the director of the annual Mid-Atlantic Open Pickleball Tournament, the largest USAPA-sanctioned tournament in the Washington, DC area. Off the court, she battled breast cancer in 2018 and received her master’s degree in sports management at The George Washington University, just before turning 60 years old.

“I believe in the power of play,” says White.

We found out her secrets to staying energetic and active.

pickleball players on court
Photo by Robert Merhaut

What’s your secret? How do you stay active every day?
I start each day with a short meditation, followed by 15 to 30 minutes of stretching exercises. I play pickleball approximately five days a week. It is easy to learn and hard to master, and much easier on your joints than many other sports. It’s so much fun and provides a great workout.

What’s the best part about staying active and healthy?
I like to play! As we age, we are all dealing with health issues. In addition to breast cancer, about four months ago, I had emergency knee surgery. In both cases, my recovery was driven by my desire to return to playing pickleball.

What is your advice to others who might be inspired by you?
It’s never too late to start. Play works—it’s not just for kids. Be a lifelong learner, and enjoy the journey.

leonard kalkwarf
Leonard Kalkwarf (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

Leonard Kalkwarf

The 3-mile walk, the 800-meter walk and the 60-meter dash. Ten-pin bowling, football and Frisbee throw, softball hit and throw, and horseshoes. When Leonard V. Kalkwarf of Springfield starts listing off his yearly events in the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics, one might wonder where the list ends, and how much time he spends training.

“I stay active by walking 2 to 3 miles every day, except the two days a week when I work out, at which time, I usually walk 1 mile,” says Kalkwarf, who has won dozens of gold medals at the senior games over the years. To round out his specialties, Kalkwarf also competes in the standing long jump, shot put, running long jump, discus and mini-javelin. Oh, and he’s 91 years old.

The only two events he practices before the regional competition (held annually in September) are bowling and horseshoes. “I am in a bowling league all winter and compete in horseshoes in the summer,” says Kalkwarf.

How does he stay motivated and ready to compete throughout the year? We asked him.

senior olympics medals stack up
Photo by Robert Merhaut

What have you learned competing as a senior athlete?
Age does make a difference. For example, when I did the 3-mile walk at age 82 (almost 10 years ago), I did it in 41:30. But this year, at age 91, it took me 50:45, but I did it!

What’s the best part about staying active and healthy?
Feeling good every day and sleeping well at night, and having the energy to be active in a variety of activities.

What do you want people to know about competing in the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics?
It is a wonderful experience to see men and women of all ages physically fit and able to compete in these events. It’s not about setting records, but just doing.

nancy lorentz
Nancy Lorentz (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

Nancy Lorentz

Ask anyone what they define as the age that someone becomes a “senior” and chances are you’ll get a dozen or so ages, ranging from 55 to 75. Alexandria resident Nancy Lorentz is very much on the low-end of that spectrum, but she has also been working for the past several years on helping seniors of all ages improve their balance, coordination and core strength through parkour.

That’s right, that internet sensation that led to viral videos of people seemingly hopping buildings, has also found its way to Northern Virginia through PK Move, a nonprofit dedicated to parkour exercises and teaching local seniors 50 and older through PK Silver.

Lorentz, 56, created the nonprofit after she fell in love with the acrobatic sport in 2011, when she was captivated by the film Casino Royale’s stunt work. Since then, she battled cancer while training and has helped dozens of local seniors be better prepared for preventing falls.

“Parkour saved my life and I wanted to share it with others,” says Lorentz.

Here, she shares her secrets to fitness in your 50s.

What inspired you to start PK Move and PK Silver?
PK Move was started by me and two friends and we wanted to create a parkour program for adults over 50 who would benefit from general fitness and fall prevention. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, the death rate from falls has more than doubled in 16 years for adults over 75 in the United States. We knew there was a fall epidemic and we needed to do something about it!

What is a PK Silver training class like?
In general, obstacles are at ground level or just above. Nothing is higher than the items you encounter in your own home on an everyday basis. Also, we have no jumping or running in our classes, which is not to say that people over 50 cannot jump or run! But we do still make the class very physically challenging.

If you had a word of advice for other young seniors (or older ones!) to get up and moving, what would it be?
You’re never too old to try something new! Don’t be afraid to get outside of your comfort zone. That may be PK Silver, but it could also be dance, pickleball, boxing, yoga, weight lifting, circus arts and more.

This post originally appeared in our February 2020 print issue. For more health and senior living features, subscribe to our e-newsletters.

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