Richard Woo (left) and Claire Henderson (right) make sure seniors make it across the balance beam safely during Augustine House’s class Thursday, Nov. 15. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Delta Gymnastics nears end of innovative seniors program

Seniors Can Move helps older folks improve balance and confidence, but needs funding to continue

On the padded sprung floor of Delta Gymnastics, 10 seniors stretched in preparation for an hour of exercise.

Sitting on foam blocks, they used their hands to rotate their ankles. Claire Henderson, one of the class’ instructors, demonstrated while sitting on the ground. Richard Woo, another instructor, showed off his balance by doing it standing up.

“Balance is as much about your life as it is about your body,” he said. Some smiles and laughter, rippled through the line of seniors. At their age — all 75 and older — some kinds of balance are easier to attain than others.

They got up off the blocks, and headed over to another area of the gym to practice safe falling techniques.

The 10 participants are part of Seniors Can Move, an innovative program designed by Delta Gymnastics to use gymnastics as a way to help seniors improve their agility, balance, coordination and strength.

“The main thing for them that they talk about is they have the confidence to do things,” Woo said about the seniors who take part in the program. “One of the ladies was very proud of the fact that she can jump again.

“It’s not like free flight — they’re holding on to something — but she said ‘I never thought I would do it again, and now I do it every day when I wash dishes.’”

Seniors Can Move started because of a grant from the New Horizons for Seniors program, which allowed Delta Gymnastics to offer 20 classes to four different seniors groups. The classes were divided into two 10-session periods, one in the spring and one in the fall.

“It took a bit of convincing, we had to bring them in and show them what we were thinking of,” Woo said about bringing the four groups on board. “Because when you say gymnastics for that age group, it was kind of like ‘What are you talking about?’ It took a little bit of ground work to get us going there.”

But once the foundation was in place, the classes took off. Each one could have a maximum of 15 participants, and many groups had to select the seniors in each class from a list of interested people. Once a week, the class members were bused in from their seniors’ facility or residential care home: Tsawwassen’s KinVillage Community Centre, Waterford and Wexford care homes, and Ladner’s Augustine House seniors’ residence.

On Thursday, Nov. 15, it was Augustine House’s second-to-last session in their quest to take their physical literacy to the next level.

According to Henderson, about half the class had already taken the gymnastics course when it was offered in the spring. The other half was new. But, she said, all were able to tackle the challenges of the program.

“Going through it has been inspiring,” she said. “They’ve taught me a lot more than I think I’ve taught them. I’ve learned just that there’s not really a limitation to what you can achieve, even when you’re older.”

Lucy Schmand, 91, is one example. Although she walks with a cane, she tried nearly every exercise the instructors set before her. When she needed a break, she would take a seat to the side and rest.

“It’s been fantastic,” Schmand said about the program. “I do stairs now at home.”

“It’s a good idea for us,” she added. “The instructors are very good, very guidant, very helpful.”

Peggy Cotter, 91, and Jean Bauck, 87, had similar things to say about the program.

“I feel it gives you confidence that you wouldn’t have otherwise,” Bauck said. “When you go to fall, you know enough to tuck your head in if you’re falling backwards, [or to] put your hands out falling forward.”

“I found it’s been very helpful for my balance, because that is my big problem,” Cotter said.

Cotter was actually one of the seniors that Henderson said had improved the most throughout the program.

“Peggy started with her cane, using it across the floor, and now she doesn’t need it. A lot of the time she’ll drop it,” Henderson said. “A few of them did it last session as well and I see a huge improvement in their confidence.”

Those same comments were reiterated again and again: Seniors Can Move builds confidence, it builds strength, it builds social bonds.

Now, Delta Gymnastics is hoping it will survive for another year.

The funding provided by the New Horizons for Seniors program was for one year only — enough to get Seniors Can Move off the ground, but not enough to keep it going. Delta Gymnastics has applied for another year of funding, which would not only keep the program going, but help it expand to two more seniors facilities in North Delta. But, they won’t find out if they get it until the end of November or later.

They’re hoping they do, both to expand the program and to continue to help seniors learn skills to improve their confidence and balance.

“Hopefully, fingers crossed. Right guys?” Henderson said, calling out to the Augustine House residents who were taking a break on the blocks. “Fingers crossed for more classes.”

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Richard Woo demonstrates the correct way to fall backwards during a Seniors Can Move class on Thursday, Nov. 15. (Grace Kennedy photo)

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