The way volunteer aerobics instructor Carmen Hemrick sees it, getting older is no reason to slow down. With retirement comes more leisure time, as well as the opportunity to use it to get active and focus on physical health.
Hemrick, 55, teaches aerobics at Christ the King Episcopal Church, 2800 W. Ina Road. It’s the latest stop in her 30-year career.
A former Fitness ABC owner, Hemrick has taught at the YMCA and other locations around the area. A core group of about 20 women, many of whom are now in their 70s and 80s, have followed Hemrick at each stop.
“I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing people — sometimes people who haven’t exercised ever or hate exercise — come in and discover it’s fun,” Hemrick said. “They’ll say ‘My balance is so much better. I’m able to walk a little bit farther.’ It also gives me satisfaction to have a lot of widows there who find friends. That makes me feel good because the class is enabling them to do that.”
Hemrick offers hour-long classes three days a week. Her sessions contain elements of yoga, kickboxing, weight training, Zumba and step aerobics. She has a low-impact class designed for seniors and those not used to exercise. Students in that class sit in chairs as they work out.
Jeanette Maslowski, 69, has taken Hemrick’s classes for 20 years.
“It’s such a friendly group and she is such a caring person,” Maslowski said of Hemrick. “She just makes the classes good fun. We just love it.”
Hemrick adapts well to each student’s needs, Maslowski said.
“She tells us to go at our own pace and not do anything extreme,” she said. “She gives us advice on health issues and what we should do to compensate for difficulties.”
Maslowski, who likes the classes so much that she often stays for a second class on the same day, meets with Hemrick and several other students for monthly luncheons.
Hemrick said she cuts out the downsides of gym culture.
“I believe it is a different kind of atmosphere, to go to a gym,” she said. “You don’t get the same kind of feeling. Here, you kind of become a big family. As soon as a person comes in the door, they are greeted and welcomed. It’s fitness, but it’s also fellowship. When somebody’s sick, everyone reaches out and sends cards.”
Marcia Johnson, 61, another student who has followed Hemrick for 20 years, said the class is also good for the heart in a nonliteral sense.
“It kind of becomes a family,” she said. “We talk about people’s problems and joys in life. It’s really become kind of a close-knit group.”
Johnson said exercise doesn’t always make for a good time, but Hemrick brings out the fun of working out.
“She is wonderful. She makes it so much fun,” Johnson said.
“In the past I’ve been in a lot of different classes, and sometimes exercise is drudgery. You think ‘Oh, I don’t want to go. It’s not a lot of fun.’ But with this class, I want to go all the time.
“It’s so much fun. You laugh, and sometimes cry, too, when people have problems. You feel like you are going to miss out if you don’t go.”