I dread going to the gym to workout on the machines this time of year because it’s like a race to the finish to try to get a treadmill before they’re all checked out by others. Group fitness classes are another story. I love a room packed with people moving together and jumping to the beat of some loud music. Either way, there’s something good about the community aspect of it all.
These thoughts got me wondering if I could find any Sisters of Providence who work out. Whew! Did I ever. And it was more inspiring than I imagined.
Take Sister Helen Dolores Losleben, for instance.
Sister Helen rides the stationary bicycle 20 minutes every day. During that time, she says she gets through all three mysteries on her rosary, which hangs from her left handlebar, — joyful, sorrowful and glorious.
“It gets kind of boring if I don’t have something to do,” she said while peddling.
A doctor once advised her to stay fit by either riding a bicycle 20 minutes a day or walking 30 minutes a day. She chose bicycling because it was the lesser time of the two options. She doesn’t remember if that was in the 1940’s or 1950’s. Sister Helen will be 94 in February.
I thought it was great that she did the bike every afternoon. Then I found out she also does sitting and standing stretches regularly in the fitness room in the mornings led by Sister Kathryn Koressel, who is 87.
So I stopped in that class the next morning.
“It’s always gentle because it’s for older people,” Sister Kathryn said about the exercises. “Breathing is very important. I can’t emphasize that enough.”
She explained that she’s been leading these 15 minute exercise classes for more than seven years. She said some of the research she did early on suggested resting a few minutes after each stretch.
“But we’ve got things to do,” she said. “That would take an hour!”
She has seen improvements in her health since regularly exercising. She said she once suffered from fasciitis (heel pain).
“Through exercise, it went away completely,” she said. “Keep yourself healthy. Your troubles come another way.”
Sister Kathryn didn’t have much time to visit with me because she was expected on another floor of Providence Hall to lead another 15 minute class.
I was able to spend a longer amount of time with Sister Margaret Norris. She loves to be outside walking and biking around Saint Mary-of-the-Woods early in the morning. Her rule this time of year is to walk indoors if it’s under 20 degrees.
“You know how I started?” she said. “Back in 1978 we were out of school for 22 days because of the blizzard. I had to get out!”
Walking led to running and running led to being chosen to run in the Pan Am games in Indianapolis. She ran in a marathon in Louisville in 1982 where she qualified for the 1983 Boston Marathon. She ran Boston in under four hours, so she received a medal.
“I just ran,” she said. “I didn’t have any special goals that I was going to do that. That was an experience! There were people all the way yelling at you.”
She said it took her awhile after that experience to get over all the yelling from the crowds of people.
“I trained in Dubois County [Jasper, Indiana] out on the country roads, which were quiet,” she explained. “Corn fields.”
Being outdoors is still what motivates her to exercise today.
“I exercise to enjoy the outdoors. If I see something while riding my bike I stop and look at it,” she said. “Do anything. Just get yourself out. Make up your mind to take care of your body. It should be fun and enjoyable.”
I could’ve spent weeks trying to catch up with many more sisters who exercise regularly, but I decided my last stop would be a late afternoon yoga class in the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College chapel in the basement of LeFer Hall. Yes, yoga class in a chapel. Don’t you love the idea?
It was there where I observed Sisters Dawn Tomaszewski, Janice Smith and Mary Moloney slowly stretching and moving on their green and turquoise blue mats. With each intentional breath and every twist of their bodies they inspired me to get out and move.
I’m thankful they allowed me to interrupt their daily exercise routines. I will carry the words of these wise women and the examples they’ve provided me as I venture out for a healthy and active 2015.
Here’s to a healthy new year!