After running group exercise classes for 1000s of clients since the early 1970s, 79 year-old Marrion Saunders is calling time on her PT career.
From taking up to 14 different classes a week in the early stages of her career, Marrion’s professional development led her down the path of working with older clients, predominantly women. For the last 20 years, she has been running a class for older adults in Adelaide. She has ignored criticism that exercise classes need variety to maintain clients’ interest, and instead developed a series of exercises that help older people with the practicalities of everyday life.
“My experience shows me that OAs (older adults) need the ability to perform everyday tasks with something left in the tank for enjoyment. One of the main tasks we need to perform every day is to be able to get off the loo. I know many older people who stopped going to the movies and out for a meal because they’re scared the toilets won’t have ‘grab rails’.
“So we work on quads and glutes and of course the pelvic floor. I also do exercises for each major muscle group to help my OAs do other day-to-day tasks that get trickier with age include reaching the top shelf in the cupboard, changing the bed and keeping balance.
“I’ve learnt a lot of stuff during my 45 years in the industry. In each class, I use a combination of Pilates, Feldenkrais, yoga, Alexander technique, multiple reps using light weights. We then do folk dancing for our aerobic content – it’s great for balance, and fun too.” You walk forward, backwards, swing linked arms – they’re all good brain manoeuvres.”
Over the years, Marrion also became a contact for migrant women who were trying to settle into life in a new country. “The last thing newly arrived Greek and Italian women would have considered in their own countries would have been an exercise class, especially as they aged. They worked. Hard! And that continued when they arrived in Australia. These classes allowed them to escape from their homes for a while. They had fun socialising and making new friends.
“I wasn’t just their exercise teacher – I became a letter reader, letter writer, language teacher and health advocate – demystifying mammograms, Pap tests, skin checks and bowel screening. What most people still don’t seem to realise is that many migrant women in my age group are illiterate in their first language and often only have a rudimentary ability to read English, if at all. Pamphlets are useless. You have to talk.”
Reflecting on her time in the industry, Marrion says she has enjoyed every minute of her career. “I like to think I have made a difference to some of their lives – not just with increased fitness, but also the social connections made by like-minded people.
“While I’m looking forward to going to exercise classes just for me, I’m unsure what I will do now at a day-to-day level. Fitness has consumed a lot of my thinking time. I have never stopped learning and incorporating my new knowledge into my classes. So I’m going to have to make it up as I go along.”
Marrion, on behalf of the PAA community, thank you for the hard work, heart and soul you have put into your business over the last 45 years. You have made a difference to many people who no doubt owe their improved physical, emotional and mental health to you.