By Phyl Newbeck
Sometimes going out by yourself to bike, ski, hike or paddle feels like exercise, but if you add a friend or two to the mix it becomes play instead. Older Vermonters who like to mix a little social interaction with their exercise have a variety of groups they can join which will take that workout and turn it into playtime.
In February 2013, Nancy Hankey of Essex started the 50+ Keeping Active Fitness Group. Renn Niquette of Colchester has been on three of their outings.
“I’m a walker and a hiker,” she said. “I joined because I like to stay active.”
Niquette said the group tends to go on outings that cover two to four miles in roughly ninety minutes. “It’s always nice to go out with a group because you can socialize along the way,” she said. “As you age, you appreciate the moment more. That includes taking time to enjoy both the companionship and the physical beauty of the scenery.”
In the summer, cyclists ranging in age from 50 to over 80 ride every Tuesday with the Silver Spokes. Informal President Steve Couzelis said most riders are in their 60s and 70s. In April, four members of the group got together to plan their rides for the summer. Most routes are in the 20-mile range, but one ride around Lake Champlain is 60 miles long and some of the Canadian rides are more than 30 miles. Roughly 40 people are members of this informal, due-less club with 20-25 showing up for each ride. Couzelis said they average 12-13 mph with stops every twenty minutes or so to chat and regroup. They often break for lunch or coffee, as well. “We’re not a racing group,” he said. “We’re a social group.”
Some club members enjoy the rides so much that they get together on Fridays for less formal rides. At the end of the year, the group has a banquet with dinner and a guest speaker.
For skiers, the 55+ Club at Smugglers’ Notch offers companionship and educational programs for those 55 years of age and older for an annual fee of $30. From early December to late March, club members meet in the Village at Morse Mountain on Wednesday mornings for free coffee and pastries, trail reports and announcements, and to break up into groups based on interest and ability. Although some club members are former instructors or patrollers who barrel down double black diamond trails at warp speeds, others come to the club as complete novices, relishing the opportunity to learn from and with their peers.
Both the 55+ Club and the Silver Spokes members enjoy each other’s company enough to expand beyond their seasons. Although there are no regular meetings, in the summer, members of the 55+ Club stay in touch and stay active with a schedule, set in the spring, for weekly activities, usually on Wednesdays that include hiking, cycling, kayaking and an annual skeet shooting event. Conversely, in the winter, members of the Silver Spokes can often be found on the slopes of Smugglers’ Notch on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Jeff LaBossiere is the organizer of a group called the Long Trail Running Club, which was founded in 2009. Although the club has members of all ages, LaBossiere said it is common for older athletes to turn from road running to trail running as they get slower with age. “When avid runners have injuries,” he said, “they turn to the trail because it’s far more forgiving than the road.”
The club has at least one organized run each week, but members also send out notices when they go out on runs on their own. LaBossiere noted that trail running is far more social than running on the road due to the slower place that allows for conversation.
“Trail runners have a great sense of community,” he said, adding that he met his wife on a trail run.
Although not restricted to older members, groups like the Catamount Trail Association (cross-country/backcountry skiing), Champlain Kayak Club, Green Mountain Bicycling Club, Green Mountain Club (hiking) and Vermont Paddlers Club sponsor outings where a number of members are 50 and older. Leslie Carew, former touring chair of the bicycle club, believes at least 50 percent of the riders in the club’s touring section are over 50. Amy Otten, a member of the Catamount Trail Association Board of Directors, believes her group’s numbers are similar. She noted that on a recent multi-day ski outing, only two of the 23 participants were under the age of 50.
Rob Libby, President of the Champlain Kayak Club, estimates at least 60 percent of their membership is 50 or older, with the majority of those in their 60s. There are five active members in their 70s. Two years ago, at age 43, Libby and his wife were the youngest out of 90 members, but recently some younger paddlers have joined.
At the Vermont Paddlers Club, Tony Shaw reported that almost half the club’s membership is over 50. Roughly one quarter of the members haven’t provided their date of birth, but of those who have, four are over 70, 15 are in their 60s and 17 are in their 50s. Although some of those members are no longer active paddlers, they still attend club functions like potluck suppers and slide shows.
“When you get older, you don’t have your work peer group anymore,” said Couzelis. “I’ve been retired for 16 years and this is my second family.”
Niquette concurred, adding that “as you age, making connections and friends is really important.”
Otten noted that group outings bring people out on days when they might not otherwise be active.
“Group enthusiasm makes marginal conditions better,” she said. “The fun is contagious when you ride with others,” Carew said. “Friends can almost turn a rainy day into a sunny one.”