Cover Story » Current Issue » Vol. 26

Embracing Fitness

Meet 5 people who have made careers out of staying active.

Long ago, in much less informed and sadly close-minded times, many people assumed that life ~ or at least all the positive elements of life, like travel, learning, dating, and yes, fitness ~ simply ground to a halt at age 40.  Teenagers to folks in their late 30s held on to this belief as though it were carved in stone.  Then, as those thirty-somethings became 40- and then 50-somethings, and were still vibrant in mind, soul, and body, perceptions began to change ~ and the result was about a decade of phrases like “50 and Fabulous,” “Life begins a 50,” “50 is the new 30,” and other sayings that, while true and ~ at the beginning ~ moderately inspiration, rapidly became annoying and almost a bit insulting, as though we needed bumper sticker mottos to encourage us not to give up hope.

Flash forward to the present, where ~ starting about 15 years ago ~ age has become, for many, little more than a numerical fact of life, not a determiner of life or quality of life.  Older individual compete against younger, work out side-by-side on the same exercise machines, enter the same competitions, and are as fit, health-conscious, and dedicated to staying in shape as their younger counterparts.

In the pages that follow, meet six individuals for whom staying active and fit is simply a natural part of their lives, personal and professional. Their respective ages are, for all intents and purposes, immaterial.

Golfer and Fitness Pro Pamela Therrien

By Christine R. Walsh

golf-pic-onePamela Therrien, figure competitor and golfer extraordinaire, credits her accomplishments in the world of athletics to clean eating, discipline, and plenty of physical activity. But the true secret to her success lies in her trusty schedule.

“If I don’t plan my work outs ahead of time,” explains Therrien, 52, “then I find too many excuses not to do them. Half of the battle is getting into my work out clothes. But one week of missing the gym can turn into two weeks and that turns into three. Before you know it, you’re in a rut. Believe me, I have been in those ruts.”

In 2006, the Sutton resident hit the stage for her first fitness competition and came in first place for the Master’s Figure category and fourth place in the Women’s Open category. In 2007, she continued her winning streak and in 2008, she placed first in the Master’s Figure category at the Northeast Classic, as well as first for the Open Figure Short category.

“When I was about 35, I started to feel my metabolism slowing down,” Therrien says, recalling how she started on the path to fitness. “I was never as active when I was younger. And then I ran the Boston Marathon. I was so inspired by all of the people around me and the whole process of training. After that, I was searching for other things that would make me feel as good as I felt during that time.”

While a love of training might have come easily, golf was a different story. According to Therrien, she might never have picked up a putter had it not been for her family. Her son Raymond began showing an interest in the sport at 13, and her husband was looking for a way to bond with him. Soon, the whole gang was on the green.

“My husband came to me one day after being gone for 4 plus hours on a Saturday and said, ‘I really want you to try this with me.’ He bought me a pair of golf shoes, a set of clubs and a set of lessons!” Therrien remembers. After overcoming her initial hesitancy, Therrien went onto become a B Division Club Champion at Pleasant Valley Country Club.

Today, the fitness/golf gal can be found on the course when the temperatures are warm or dashing from one fitness boot camp to another. These boot camps, each lasting about an hour, work all of her muscle groups and let her know that she’s done the hard work necessary to make her feel and look like a million healthy bucks. But even a fitness dynamo like Therrien has the one dreaded ~ squats.

“I want to have good legs, I have decent legs ~ but the only way you’re going to get good legs is by doing squats!” she laughs. “I force myself to do them!”

Worcester Sharks Coach Roy Sommer

By Kim Dunbar

Roy Sommer is a straight shooter, honest, and ~ if you work hard when you play for him ~ you’ll get along just fine.coach-roy

“If you cheat and take shortcuts,” said the Worcester Sharks head coach, “we probably won’t get along.”

This approach has helped make Sommer, 54, the longest-tenured coach in the AHL and, at the time of publication, just three wins away from 500. Last year he became the fourth coach to reach the 1,000 games plateau, most with the San Jose Sharks organization.

“I have been fortunate enough to be with the same organization for the last 16 years,” said Sommer. “The bottom line is the number of NHL players that have come through here … speaks for itself.”

Between the Kentucky Thoroughblades, Cleveland Barons and Worcester Sharks, he’s coached 112 skaters who have played in the NHL. Sommer also spent time in the big leagues ~ he was a sixth round selection in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft and bounced around the pros before landing behind the bench as an assistant in 1987.

“Everyone told me I was good with the younger guys, maybe I was always a coach-in-waiting,” he said.

No matter his spot on the team ~ in skates or suits ~ Sommer has always been dedicated to the sport. In 20 years he’s missed two practices (to attend his father’s funeral last year), and when he was hit in the face with a flying puck last February, he continued coaching after getting bandaged up. “That’s just how I am,” he said. “I would expect my players to do the same thing. I was hit in the nose, not knocked out. It stung.”

His physical and mental toughness might stem from a lifetime of staying active. Sommer, who grew up in California, started skating at age six and has been on the move ever since. “I try to do something every day for at least an hour,” Sommer said. “I very seldom miss a day.”

The coach’s workouts of choice include riding the bike, taking walks, and skating ~ although he doesn’t get out on the ice with the players as much as he used to. “Once in a while I’ll get out and have fun with them,” he said.

Having a job he loves is something Sommer doesn’t take for granted. “I still enjoy what I do,” he said. “I don’t feel like it’s a job. I have the best job in the world. [The players] keep me young and keep me on my toes. I even listen to some rap music still.”

Although the coach prefers country music, he makes it work. Sounds like they all get along just fine.

Rower Patrick Guida

By Kim Dunbar

imgp0699-photo-by-patrick-guidaIf you’ve ever driven over the Route 9 bridge that connects Worcester to Shrewsbury and wished you could glide along Quinsigamond Lake like the rowers below, well, you can.

“Almost anyone at any age can row,” said Patrick Guida, president of the Quinsigamond Rowing Association (QRA) and assistant coach of the WPI women’s crew team. “It’s a low impact, whole body exercise … Most folks with reasonable flexibility and mobility, and a desire to learn, can learn to row.”

And QRA might just be the best place to do just that. According to the 50-year-old West Boylston resident, rowing is a specialized sport that requires a unique location and equipment. “We have a premiere facility on Lake Quinsigamond,” he said of the Donahue Rowing Center, adding that commercial boats and the lack of current make the lake even more ideal (according to the website, Lake Quinsigamond is currently considered the fourth best natural body of water for rowing in the world).

The QRA, which began in the 1960s as a hosting organization to the New England Rowing Championship, has since grown to include the QRA community rowing club. Guida said that the majority of the club’s membership ~ about 60 to 70 percent ~ consists of rowers over 40 years old.

“Sixty percent of rowers have never done it before joining the QRA,” he added. Every year the club hosts a “Learn to Row” day in early June which allows the public a free, hands-on experience and introduction to the local rowing community. Guida said that people fall in love with the sport because it’s on the water, involves a challenging movement, and requires perfection and teamwork.

“I think that’s what draws people in,” he said. “A lot of people love the team aspect. Rowing is steeped in historical significance and tradition and people start to get a flavor of that. It’s very addictive.”

Guida said it is his belief that, once taught, most rowers tend to naturally want to improve their skills and their fitness. Sometimes this leads to competing ~ Guida, who rowed in college and got back into the sport to get in shape, caught the bug in 2004. However, there is also a large contingency of recreational rowers around the world who row for pleasure and general fitness. QRA has both.

This August, QRA will host one of the sport’s biggest competitions ~ USRowing’s Masters National Championship, during which thousands of the nation’s best rowers will race on Lake Quinsigamond. That might be a good day to drive over the Route 9 bridge.

For more information, visit www.qra.org.

Photo by H.Robert Nyce  ~  2010 Coastweeks Regatta in Mystic, CT

Boxer and Instructor Mike Culbert

By Kim Dunbardsc_0248

People say you should practice what you teach, but Mike Culbert isn’t one of them.  In fact, he’s done very little of what he teaches as a boxing instructor at the Fitness Asylum in Shrewsbury.

“I always say the best way to be a better boxer is to box other people,” said Culbert.

The 45-year-old would know ~ he won 84 of the 100 fights as a boxer (30-4 as a pro, 54-11 as an amateur), and his resume includes matches against Mickey Ward and Culbert’s idol, Roberto Duran.  “I am most famous for being the last man he knocked out,” he joked.

Culbert ~ who describes himself as an “old school type of fighter,” meaning he trains by running, sparring and just hitting the bag ~ stepped away from the ring in 2006. He worked in the Brockton Department of Youth Services until he had the opportunity to become a head trainer at an LA Boxing, and a chance to escape a job he didn’t enjoy.

“All of the years I put into this sport, I needed to get more out of it,” said Culbert of his career change.  “There is nothing better than going to work and loving it.”

Culbert can’t answer why he loves the sport so much, but guesses it has to do with the athleticism it requires. “You’re going to get a good workout,” he said.

But one thing Culbert does know is that age isn’t a factor when it comes to boxing. “I can still do the things I used to do, but I can only do them in stretches,” he said. “I just have to use those stretches wisely.”

Culbert is currently training for his return to the ring in March, a charity exhibition fight, and it’s got him wildly thinking of a comeback. “I can’t rule it out,” he said. “That feeling [of competing] never goes away. You may not always feel like training, but you always feel like fighting.  I don’t feel old.”

Whether or not his boxing career is revived, Culbert just wants to enjoy his time as a trainer. “I enjoy what I do and getting people in shape. I just want to keep building my classes and my reputation as an instructor,” he said.

And although Culbert doesn’t necessarily practice what he teaches, he’s constantly working on his style. “I pick things up from other trainers,” he said. “I’m a much better trainer than I was three years ago. I keep learning.”

People usually say that’s the sign of a good teacher. To train with Culbert, visit www.fitness-asylum.com for more information.

Photo by Kristen Williams
Pictured: Mike Culbert, right

Fitness Trainer Julie Chapleau

By Christine R. Walsh

dsc_2713_rpygrlnxpg1When you ask Julie Chapleau about her accomplishments, she’s quick to tell you that about her marriage to her husband of 29 years and how she’s the mother of two great college students.  But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that this woman is also a Cathy Savage Fitness and Nutrition Coach, a certified personal fitness trainer with NV Personal Training, and a fitness and figure competitor.  But where, in this busy schedule, is there time to breathe?

“I live in North Grafton,” Chapleau, 51, says, “But I joke about living in other places because I’m never home.  I’m always running from one gym to the next or from one client’s house to another’s.”

Chapleau trains her many clients at various area gyms, but she estimates that about half of her visits take place in the clients’ homes.  She loves helping people create fitness goals and work to make those goals a reality.

“I really customize a plan for each person,” she says, “And I view people from many different ways.  At a gym, the client and I are there to just work out ~ no distractions.  But when I go on home visits, I get to see their living environments and see what they’re challenges might be and then I can adapt their plans.”

Chapleau took her love of fitness to the next level in her late 20s, she says.  With a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Nutrition, Chapleau had the tools she needed to eat healthfully.  Then she began doing aerobics (yes, Jane Fonda style!) and started to teach them at her gym in order to gain a free membership.  Over time, she combined her nutrition and fitness knowledge to achieve her dreams.  Most recently, at the WBFF Eastern US Championship in June 2011, this fitness guru placed 4th in the Figure Open Class, Short.

When it comes to motivating others to reach their goals, Chapleau feels that it’s important to find an activity that a person will genuinely like ~ such as a yoga class or a spinning class ~ and participate in at least three times a week.  Chapleau feels that the social aspect of a class can give people the extra push they may need to get out the door.  But she warns against having only one “work-out buddy.”

“If your work-out buddy gets sick, then you might not end up going,” Chapleau says.  “But if you stick with it, you’ll start getting stronger, and you’ll see the results. People always have excuses for not working out, but I say I have high blood pressure and I have arthritis in my hips.  And those are my reasons for keeping active.”

Competitive Weightlifter and Bodybuilder Frank Clark

By Kim Dunbar

frankclark804A torn patella tendon and quadruple bypass surgery would be enough to scare anyone into slowing down. But not Frank Clark. The 64-year-old Westborough resident, who has been competitively weightlifting and bodybuilding for nearly 50 years, has relied on exercise to get him through both good times and bad.

“The sport has given me the opportunity to travel, develop lasting friendships, and hopefully be a role model for those who feel that age or a physical limitation prevents them from engaging in some form of physical activity,” said Clark.

Clark’s interest in weightlifting was piqued in high school after watching a friend. “My parents blessed me with good genetics and I progressed quickly,” said Clark, who started Olympic lifting in 1963 and won his first competition just two years later. He kept up with the sport even after enlisting in the military as a member of the United States Air Force Weightlifting Team, which was invited to compete in the 1972 Olympic Trials in Detroit.

But Clark’s career hit a snag during the state championship in 1979. “On my last lift with 345 pounds, my left patella tendon ripped from the base of my kneecap,” he said. “After 88 contests, my weightlifting career ended.”

After rehab, Clark continued to exercise with “with no real goal in mind” until he discovered bodybuilding. After placing last in his first competition in 1985, over the next several years Clark collected many titles and awards including five Mr. Massachusetts titles and the US Bodybuilding Federation’s Mr. North America (50+).

“At 51, I felt invincible,” said Clark. “But then reality struck.”

Despite being a registered dietician who followed a heart-healthy diet, he couldn’t escape his genetic predisposition for high cholesterol: 12 days before his 52nd birthday, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery to repair a blockage of the coronary arteries.

“It changed my view of how fragile the human body really is,” he said. “And that physical and mental health should never be taken for granted.”

Clark believes exercise can go a long way and makes sure to do some form of physical activity daily, whether training at the gym or taking a walk around the mall. He regularly sticks to a four-day cycle of workouts to stay in shape (he’s still competing and recently placed second at the 2011 INBF Monster Mash).

“You don’t have to join a high-priced gym to exercise,” he said, adding that senior and community centers, as well as high schools, may offer classes or have walking trails. “The most important factor is that you choose an activity you enjoy … No one wants to spend their final days confined to a wheelchair or a hospital bed.”

Especially not Frank Clark.

Photo courtesy of Todd Ganci, tcanci.com

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.