College’s Adaptive PE Classes Have a Loyal Following

By Guest Contributor June 15, 2009 10:15

By Sean Day

“It is a real privilege to be around people who are doing something positive for themselves. It is absolutely fantastic.”

So says Columbia College instructor Josh Bigelow, who ought to know. For 29 years he has been teaching the college’s Adaptive PE class, which is so popular that many Tuolumne County seniors who enroll for a single semester end up attending for five or even 10 years.

The program offers seniors a specialized workout program that caters to their individual needs. While most participants are seniors, the program is open to students of all ages.

Bigelow, 57, has been teaching the class since 1980, first at the National Guard Armory near Columbia Airport and, in recent years, at the Oak Pavilion on campus.

“This is not a physical therapy class,” says Bigelow, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physical education from UC Berkeley, with a specialty in motor learning and development. “We offer individuals who are cleared by doctors a modified workout program.”

Adaptive PE is primarily for people continuing physical activities after recovering from an injury and completing physical therapy. Those who have had knee replacements, back injuries, surgery, strokes or any orthopedic ailments are prime candidates, according to Bigelow. The class averages 25 to 30 students, both men and women.

Adaptive PE has given 91-year-old Peggy Lisk the motivation to stay active and fit. A Sonora resident, Peggy came to Tuolumne County to be closer to her granddaughter, April Walker, a health and human performance instructor at Columbia and at Modesto Junior College.

“I remember as a youngster, turning loose and running down the hills of Arkansas, and what a great feeling it was,” says Lisk, who strives to recapture that feeling in class. “Participating in this program leaves me with more energy, stamina, and satisfaction in life.”

The mother of five grown sons and a daughter, and grandmother to four, Lisk encourages newcomers to join the program.

Kathleen Burns, 93, who moved here in 1946 with her husband, didn’t join Adaptive PE to recover from an injury, but for the camaraderie. “It keeps me energized, and everyone has such a great sense of humor,” she says.

Between the instructors and participants, there is never a dull moment. The class begins with a warm-up circle, which lasts for about 10 minutes and is spiced with good-natured jokes among the classmates. Then participants fan out, using an array of exercise equipment, from treadmills to stationary rowers.

Instructors set participants up with their own workout programs, tailored to specific needs, and student programs are regularly modified. “As abilities change or improve, we adapt workouts to fit participants’ new needs,” says Bigelow, hence “Adaptive PE.”

Progress is measured in four areas: cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, and body composition.

Bigelow and assistant Karen Yacovetti teach 9 a.m. and 10:40 a.m. classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and instructors Mike Fabry and Marge Petrakis teach an 11:20 a.m. class on Tuesday and Thursday.  Each class lasts about 90 minutes. Physical therapist Kathy Kenna evaluates students, who often arrive with doctor’s orders as to exercise parameters.

Although he has been teaching the class for nearly three decades, Bigelow remains enthusiastic. “I absolutely still enjoy it,” he says. “When you see someone doing better, it’s highly rewarding.”

Seniors participate in the program for a number of reasons, and the open, welcoming atmosphere keeps them coming back. The goal is to keep participants healthy, active and happy into their later years and, given the loyalty of class members, it’s succeeding.

The next Adaptive PE classes will begin on Monday, Aug. 31. Classes cost $18 per semester; parking is free for those with a handicapped-parking permit. Those interested may attend the first class prior to enrolling or enroll ahead of time. Call 588-5187 for information.

Sean Day is a student at Columbia College.

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Guest Contributor June 15, 2009 10:15
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