Caroline Christian doesn’t let age stop her from exercising. She turns 100 years old on December 30 and she still hits the gym three times a week to ride the bicycle and lift weights.
“It’s good for my health and it gets me out,” she said. Christian rarely misses a chance to exercise attending sessions offered at EIU three mornings a week offered through Sarah Bush Lincoln’s Monitored Exercise Testing Services (METS).
When I was small I said I wanted to live to be 100 and my father said ‘that’s a long time.’ As I grew older I still wanted to live to be 100, but I qualified it – only if I could think and do for myself,” she said. “I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.”
Christian first joined the Adult Fitness Program at EIU, for healthy adults of all ages, nearly 30 years ago as a social outlet and a place to connect with peers while improving her health. She had just moved to Charleston to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. “When I first started we walked outside on the track through all kinds of weather, rain, snow or heat,” she said. The group moved indoors a few years later and walked around the track at the EIU Field House and later the Student Recreation Center.
Thankfully, she has been healthy for most of her life. Always acting young for her age, Christian delivered newspapers door to door in Charleston for several years while she was in her mid-80s. She was forced to give it up when she suffered a heart attack on her route one day. “When I got home I thought ‘I’ll be alright, I’m just tired’, but I wasn’t and my daughter took me to the (SBL) Emergency Department that night,” she said.
She was airlifted to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield where she underwent bypass surgery. However, she didn’t let it keep her down long. She enrolled in cardiac rehabilitation classes offered through METS at Sarah Bush Lincoln and returned to her early morning workouts at the gym at EIU as soon as she could. She is grateful that METS works in partnership with EIU to offer Phase III classes three mornings a week for people who need special assistance in maintaining a good fitness level.
Christian has faithfully maintained her exercise routine ever since, which she credits for helping keep her active. She is determined to keep going despite suffering from spinal stenosis for the past three years, a condition most commonly caused by wear-and-tear changes in the spine related to osteoarthritis. Since her condition makes it difficult for her to walk, she now rides an exercise bicycle to strengthen her legs and she lifts hand weights to increase her upper body strength. “The program is wonderful and I tell other people about it. I think I’d be a couch potato if I didn’t come out and exercise,” she said.
“She’s an inspiration to everyone at the gym,” METS instructor Paula Enstrom, RN, said. METS and EIU staff members threw her a birthday party a couple weeks early to help her celebrate her centennial milestone. Christian was touched by the gathering of classmates and staff members who came to wish her well and the special shirt Enstrom had made which read, “Made in 1916 – All original parts – Made to perfection.” She proudly wore it to the gym on her next class day.
“Everyone is amazed by her dedication. It’s terrific. It keeps her moving. I’m very proud of my mom,” said daughter Jayne Bardsely, who joined the program a few years ago and takes her mother to and from classes.
Christian said she continues to exercise because she “feels good after exercise. Sometimes when you sit down at my age, it’s hard to get back up,” she said. “As long as I’m physically able, I’ll keep coming to exercise,” she said.
For more information about Sarah Bush Lincoln METS, call (217) 258-2177. For more information about the Adult Fitness Program at EIU, call (217) 581-7579.