Keeping in shape

Herald/Steven Doll - Fai-Fan Lee, instructor for tai chi, leads the class through the routine Tuesday at the Harker Heights Activities Center.

By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

They say age is just a number and for Joyce Mayer, numbers aren't terribly important. Even 20, the number of years the 55 Up Senior Recreation Program has existed, is not that big of a deal.

Five is small. It's a number Mayer likes. Five is the amount of 55 Up members who have died in the last 12 years. The five tells Mayer, director of the 55 Up program, that the program keeps its members alive longer since all of them were close to 75 when they passed.

The 55 Up program will celebrate its 20th anniversary at a luncheon at the Harker Heights Library and Activities Center on Nov. 12. The program will celebrate 20 years and honor the members who have died.

During a Tuesday line dancing course, Ramona Mendoza, 65, glistens with a big smile. She swivels her hips, claps her hands and shuffles her feet to "ma, ma, ma/ ma, ma, mamia."

"For my age, people don't believe it," she said. "If you have the energy, why not give it...You gotta move it or you lose it."

The program changes lives, Mayer said.

Arnold Espitia, 76, succumbed to loneliness when he from moved from Tampa Bay, Fla. to Killeen to be with his grandson, a Fort Hood soldier. With his grandson working long days on post, Espitia sat alone at home.

Espitia, who suffers from an arthritic shoulder, feared injury if he worked out alone at home, so his shoulder just worsened.

Since he started 55 Up's exercising classes in the last few weeks, a miracle happened: he moves his shoulder freely for the first time in years.

"Over here they have so many things to do," he said. "This is such a beautiful program."

The 55 Up program fights the sedentary, lonely and depressed lifestyles some retirees and seniors citizens encounter after children leave the home. The program challenges the body with physical activities such as dancing and the mind with brain games and new skills such as quilting.

"A lot of research has shown that older adults who are physically active, mentally challenged by activities and take part especially in activities that get them up and moving, it's a big life extender," Mayer said.

The change happens within a few weeks. A person joins and sits mostly on the sidelines, talking to few people. A few weeks later, their confidence builds and they take part in activities they never imagined.

Tai chi has always fascinated Espitia, but he never had the opportunity to learn. On Thursday, Espitia's face carried a look of child-like wonder as he practiced Tai chi for the first time during a temporary training course at 55 up.

Some shy newcomers eventually evolve to become volunteer leaders, guiding others in dancing, woodcarving or quilting. The program changes their lives and then the volunteers help better the lives of others.

Age isn't something the group pretends doesn't exist. They joke about their age. It's just a number after all.

While practicing line dancing, Myron Mansfield, 58, shouted to a friend "When you do that 'hip-hip' thing, don't hurt yourself."

If there are any concerns if the number 55 is all that important, it's not.

"It's open to anyone interested in having a good time. Even though we say 55, we really have a handful of people under 55. We're sort of open to older adults. My feeling is if they get along with older adults and older adults get along with them, they are welcome."

For more information on the luncheon or the 55 Up program, call (254) 554-2674.

Contact Victor O'Brien at or (254) 501-7468.

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