It’s no secret what the benefits of exercise are, especially as we age — improved heart and lungs, stronger muscles, weight loss. … In general, we’re healthier and happier, but most of us still find every excuse not to do it. We’re too busy. We’re too old. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. Well, lots of our neighbors in their 50s through 80s are leaping over those excuses. Fortunately for them, they find the motivation, have the discipline and reap the rewards.
Art Zimmerman, 73, started running in 2001 at the age of 55. He wanted to lose weight. “Since 55-yearold legs are not normally built for speed, definitely not mine,” Zimmerman said, “I found myself enjoying the challenge of seeing how far I could run.” The following year, Zimmerman ran his first marathon on Kiawah Island and, in the process, went from 210 to 170 pounds. “I became hooked on running and marathons.”
In the past 18 years, Zimmerman, a Mount Pleasant resident, has run 14 full marathons, 24 half-marathons and 135 races total. His marathons have been all over the U.S., including Chicago, New York, Big Sur, Miami and Washington, and even Rome, Italy. He participates in all the local runs every year and has 18 Cooper River Bridge Runs under his feet.
Zimmerman admitted that it’s sometimes hard to stay motivated. He said it helps to suit up in his running clothes as soon as he wakes. He does a few reps with 10-pound weights, grabs a banana or half a protein bar, drinks a little juice, turns on his GPS watch, does a few minor leg stretches and out the door he goes. He holds a bottle filled with Gatorade, wears a road ID bracelet and carries his cell phone. When he’s done, he records everything about the run. He has detailed records of every run and every race he’s ever done and knows that he will hit 15,000 miles in September.
“I’m glad I’ve kept record of my running,” Zimmerman said. “It’s very motivating.” He said he also runs because of the health benefits, the inner satisfaction and the excitement of the races, especially in big cities.
“Running is fun and good for the soul. I’ve found the physical challenge becomes all mental. The mind can force the body to obey.”
Diane Lauritsen, 65, is another Mount Pleasant distance athlete. She is a member of the Palmetto Masters Swim Team, the largest U.S. Masters Swim team in South Carolina, and competes in meets and open-water swims throughout the state. She swims from 5:30-6:30 a.m. three days a week at the LTP pool in Mount Pleasant. She joined the team seven years ago after seeing a call for swimmers notice at the Jones Center pool. Since 2012, the club has grown from about 25 people to several hundred today.
Although Lauritsen says she is not fast and not competitive at the meets, competing allows her to set her own goals and swim against her own times. She added that the team is always supportive, and sometimes “the tortoise winds up doing okay, too.”
Like Zimmerman, Lauritsen feels a lot of personal satisfaction from exercising.
“I like the camaraderie of being on a team. I also like the coached workouts because the coach tells you what to do each day, and you get in and do it without thinking about it. Swimming gives me another opportunity to set goals and have something to work for. Because of the sport, I am stronger and more fit. It’s positive all the way around.”
Tennis is another popular team sport in Mount Pleasant. Most neighborhoods have adult teams and compete year-round. Pierre LeBlanc, 57, joined the Mount Pleasant Recreation Center tennis team when he moved here in 2011.
“It’s amazing how many people participate and all the different levels of play there are,” said LeBlanc, who competes in about 100 matches and practices a year in four different groups — mixed, combo, spring and fall leagues. He plays throughout the year, never taking a break. In addition to club practices, LeBlanc wheels his tennis ball-pitching machine a block away from his home in Hidden Lakes to the neighborhood tennis courts and hits balls for 60 to 90 minutes about three times a week.
LaBlanc said he’s not in it to win every match. “My goal is always to hit better and stronger using less and less effort. I want to keep improving my shot and the way I move on the court.”
While the rest of us may safeguard ours, “excuse” is not in Joan Pittman’s vocabulary. When Pittman, 81, of Sullivan’s Island, is not able to do a certain sport anymore, she finds a new one to take its place. She works it into her schedule just like a meeting. To her, staying fit is about generating energy, breathing techniques and mindfulness. When she was younger, she played baseball and tennis and enjoyed horseback riding. In 1976, she discovered the “runner’s high.”
As she got older and couldn’t run anymore, she took up sculling. “I wanted something rhythmic and nonimpactful that used all the muscle groups,” she said.
Pittman bought a single-person shell, sculled several times a week and was part of the Charleston Rowing Club for many years. She spent hours gliding through the local intercoastal waterways. When she couldn’t manage the boat anymore, she bought a stationary rower for her front porch. Today, she uses it at least three times a week to get her cardio workout in.
To help with balance and strength, Pittman goes to a personal trainer two times a week. She’s also participated in the Alexander Technique — a way of learning to move mindfully through life — and the Feldenkrais Method, a type of exercise therapy that reorganizes connections between the brain and body.
“I’m always going to do something. Staying fit is wonderful for the body, mind and soul. I have some of my best thoughts and inspirations when exercising. It helps you be whole.”
By Tonya McGue