My 97-year-old client: ‘Though she be but little, she is fierce.’

Two times a week I train a client who unknowingly makes every person in the gym stop what they’re doing and smile just because of the very fact she is at the gym. She’s tiny — just about nose-height to me, and I’m a shorty — but, in the words of William Shakespeare, though she be but little, she is fierce.

She’s 97 years old, and boy does she keeps me on my toes. This morning I asked her if I could write about her, and she said yes, but said I couldn’t use her name. And then she corrected my counting, which always seems to be off by one or two repetitions during each exercise of her workout.

Being 97 years old just on its own is a lot of exercise. On top of that, several years ago she began losing her sight. She became my client because she wants to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. During our sessions each week, we focus a lot on balance, core strength and simulating activities of daily living to improve her strength and stamina. Among other things, we do stepups, pretend to take dishes out of the dishwasher and put them in the cupboards (not a favorite exercise), and even though she makes a point of walking a half-mile every day weather-permitting when she’s at home, we do our share of walking during her workouts because it’s the one place she can step it out without using a walker, which allows her to widen her stride and keep her hips flexible.

Over the past few months we have increased her strength by almost 300 percent on some exercises. She does modified pushups, and we’ve gone from 5 to pretty much as many as she wants to do. Her posture has improved, which does a lot for balance (when your head leans forward, as it tends to as we age, that can cause your entire body to lean, and which can lead to taking a tumble).

Working with her has been both fun and gratifying — and also educational, as I do not know what it feels like to live inside a 97-year-old body and working with her has given me some clues. Our bodies don’t recover or regenerate as swiftly (or sometimes, much at all) as we pass certain age milestones, but studies show that we continue to benefit from exercise no matter what our age. She lets me know when she’s had enough, when she needs a break, and when she wants to do more.

Here’s my tip for you: Do more. The fitter you are, the more life you’ll have in your years, and maybe you’ll be the one correcting your trainer when you’re pushing 100.

Wendy Watkins

About Wendy Watkins

Wendy Watkins is a Bangor-based personal trainer, fitness coach, studio owner, and writer/editor. She is the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Losing 20 Pounds in 2 Months. Visit her website at