Mary Olson leads a chair-based exercise class at the Nikiski Senior Center, Island Lake Road.
Mary Olson leads a chair-based exercise class at the Nikiski Senior Center, Island Lake Road.

Grass-roots Peninsula Change Club makes exercising just a little easier

When Mary Olson discovered that the Nikiski senior center did not have exercise classes, she started one and now she’s teaching two.

Olson is a dedicated member of the Central Peninsula Change Club, which works to increase exercise opportunities in communities — and to build an environment to support this.

The club grew out of a 2011 initiative by StrongWomen founder Miriam Nelson to promote grassroots changes in communities. The Tufts University professor picked eight rural communities around the country with active StrongWomen programs, including Kenai, to launch her “change clubs.”

The Central Peninsula club is going strong. Kenai Peninsula District agent Linda Tannehill, who chairs the club, says members have succeeded in getting bicycle icons painted on the shoulder of Bridge Access Road and worked with the Department of Transportation to erect “bike route” signs —to make the busy route safer. The club also hosts free monthly swims at the Skyview High School pool and finds businesses and organizations to sponsor the swims.

Olson says she has three regulars in her Nikiski senior center exercise class who are in their 80s. They are happy to not drive far to get exercise.  So is Olson, who is 69. “This is for me, too,” she says.

FYI ...

  • Extension offers several programs related to health and exercise. StrongWomen classes provide strength and balance training to middle-aged and older adults.
  • Linda Tannehill is one of 11 StrongWomen “ambassadors” across the country who are certified to train leaders. Since 2005, she has trained more than 250 StrongWomen leaders, who teach classes at more than 20 sites around Alaska.
  • In the past year, an Anchorage agent trained 80 instructors for the Living Well Alaska program, which teaches individuals how to manage their chronic health conditions.
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