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Exercise enthusiast inspires others

By ADELE THUMM

FOR THE DAILY MAIL

A new wave of exercise enthusiasts is on the rise and age isn't slowing them down.

Georgiann Ash, 78, of Scott Depot, is one such enthusiast who has been going strong for the past five years as an active member of the Silver Sneakers program.

This fitness program, geared toward older adults, helps participants take control of their health through regular exercise classes.

Ash was recently honored for her commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Out of more than 300 people nationwide, Ash's personal essay led to her selection as a finalist for the Richard L.  Swanson Inspiration Award.

When asked if she sees herself as an inspiration to others, Ash pondered before replying, "It sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, but I've had people tell me that if it hadn't been for me they wouldn't be back (to class)."

Anyone stopping by the hour-long Silver Sneakers class, held five days a week at the Tri-County YMCA, is sure to spot Ash toward the back of the room -- her usual spot for helping others in the class.

"I try to make them feel welcome and show them the ropes," she said. 

This take-charge attitude can be traced all through Ash's life. Though full of accomplishments, it has not been without a few mountains to climb.

"I've always been a fighter. I'm not going to let anything keep me down," she said.

After high school, Ash found herself facing the typical career options for a young woman in the 1950s: nursing or clerical jobs.

"Girls were not expected to go to college," Ash recalls. "After high school, it was 'When are you going to start working?'<#148>

With a younger sister diagnosed with polio at the age of three, college certainly didn't seem like the practical option. It wasn't until her first marriage ended in divorce that Ash knew something had to change.

A second marriage and four children later, she finally considered college.

"I put them in school, and then I went off to school," she said. 

Ash graduated from West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University) in the 1970s with an education degree and went on to earn a masters in Title I education from the College of Graduate Studies, later known as Marshall University Graduate College.

She taught in Kanawha County for 27 years, mainly sixth graders, in various elementary and middle schools. As a Title I teacher, Ash was in demand, and along with a group of fellow teachers she offered workshops and even taught some at the graduate level.

Finally, the principal at Weimer Elementary in St. Albans requested Ash, and she finished her teaching career there as a Title I teacher.

Retirement for Ash was not the end of an active lifestyle.

"I can't sit down and let the grass grow under my feet," she said.

When she isn't busy keeping up with the steps in the Silver Sneakers class -- "Zumba for old people" -- or having dinner with her friends from class -- "my little support group" -- she's busy taking care of her home and enjoying life with her husband, Harold, who will be 83 next month.

If she can stay still long enough, Ash enjoys painting with oils, working crossword puzzles, and reading the latest mysteries by James Patterson and David Baldacci. She stays active by walking and doing housework and some yard work.

"I'm not one to sit and take an afternoon nap. I don't have time, and I don't want to," she said.

Even with all this energy, though, Ash can still recognize that the perspective on exercise changes as a person ages.

"Sometimes you're not always so eager to do it. Sometimes you push yourself. When you're older you get complacent."

But, she said, when you do go through with it you're glad you did.

"Exercise is more important when you're older -- physically and mentally."

Equally important are the relationships built and sustained through group exercise programs. When asked what her favorite part of Silver Sneakers is, Ash doesn't hesitate to answer, "being with my friends."


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