Much to my chagrin, I learned recently that I am an alterkaker.
I was at the Kaiserman JCC taking the twice-weekly Boomer Bootcamp class, when I began my usual exaggerated grumbling about a particularly disliked exercise. My role is class clown, or maybe class idiot, depending upon who you ask.
Instructor Jernell Mapp, who knows to not take my protests seriously, pointed out that since I’m the youngest person in the class, I shouldn’t have any problem completing the exercise.
I glanced around in mock shock, then slowly realized she was right about the age part.
“Nobody here is younger than 50?” I asked incredulously, met only with heads shaking “no.”
So even though I’m not technically a boomer — baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, while I was born in 1966 — my participation does make me an alterkaker.
That said, I’m glad I’m an alterkaker because Boomer Bootcamp has become a community on to itself. A community of alterkakers, but a good community nonetheless. As they (who is “they,” anyway?) say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
So that’s what I’ve done.
For an hour at 6 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday, Mapp puts a group of 12 to 20 participants (and growing) through its paces.
To a mostly Motown soundtrack, with some ’50s oldies and ’70s disco mixed in, we warm up with assorted stretches. From there, it’s on to an ever-changing mix of arm curls, jumping jacks, pushups, head bangers, lunges, squats and planks, and, if Mapp is feeling particularly evil, mountain climbers and burpees. (Anyone who’s ever done one knows that the only thing worse than burpees is herpes.)
After a few minutes of core exercises — including the dreaded toe touches while lying on our backs with legs in the air (a favorite of mine since they hurt my neck and my back!) — we wrap up with a couple balance exercises and a few more stretches.
I try not to look in the mirror at myself because I envision I resemble Frankenstein trying to exercise and am usually completely out of sync with everyone else.
One reason the class is so popular is that it works for varying levels of fitness. Mapp offers alternative, less-rigorous versions of exercises for those with assorted physical ailments. That might include doing an exercise while seated or holding onto a chair; it might also be involve trying the exercise without weights.
Mapp, 49, has a track and field background — she helped officiate the women’s javelin throw at the recent Penn Relays — and coaches the Friends’ Central indoor and outdoor cross-country teams, in addition to her duties as assistant fitness director. Under her tutelage the last couple years, the class has morphed from one originally designed for aging basketball players — that would be me — to a program for anyone from 50 to 70 looking to improve their overall fitness.
“This relieves tension, keeps me fit, keeps me flexible and I’m hoping that it counters the effects of aging,” said importer Simon Saionz, 66, of Wynnewood, who regularly attends the classes with his wife, Lynne, and has the usual privilege of occupying the space next to me. “It’s challenging, and I generally don’t do these types of exercises on my own.”
Other participants offered similar sentiments, then noted that something else may be even more important.
“The fact that we are a group and act as a team — what that has generated as a class is camaraderie,” said Anthony Jenkins, 56, a pastor, behavior specialist consultant and former Marine who is Mapp’s de facto second-in-command and gives me false hope by saying my pot belly is diminishing. “There is a camaraderie among a diversity of people.”
“It’s like a 45-minute social network. It brings the community together,” Mapp said, citing the age, gender, racial and religious mix of participants. “In a Jewish community center, you have a beautiful melting pot.”
Patty Rettig, 59, whose sister, Susie Rettig, also is in the class, put it more simply.
“I just look forward to Monday and Wednesday night,” said the pediatric nurse practitioner, who tended to me the time I cramped up and made a fool out of myself rushing from the room.
That said, the class is about exercising — and people are seeing results.
“I see all the regulars getting strong and fit,” Patty Rettig said.
At 70, retiree Bill Rosenbaum is among the oldest participants. He said the class gives him more energy.
“It makes me motivated to come, although I might not want to do so,” he said. “I’m kind of surprised I can do everything pretty easily.”
Rosenbaum’s also the most enthusiastic participant about the music and is willing to bust out a dance move or two if coaxed. You might think the music’s a small point, but Mapp takes pains to come up with playlists that motivate.
“I get to know their personalities through music,” she said.
Sometimes, however, that can backfire, such as the time Mapp demonstrated — to the sounds of Hall & Oates — a new exercise that didn’t seem appealing.
My simple response of “I can’t go for that” got a good laugh and temporarily derailed things, even if we still had to do the exercise.
Mapp expects the class to continue to evolve as she fine-tunes things according to the group’s needs.
“The greatest success is you keep coming back,” she said, failing to note that an even greater success would be for me to keep coming back and stop grumbling — a far more difficult result to achieve.
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