Secrets to senior fitness success for longtime members of the Simon Family JCC

by | May 9, 2024 | Other News

The Simon Family JCC is an invaluable resource for many people, especially for those who frequent the aquatic and fitness areas. Several longtime members explain their commitment to exercise and how joining the JCC has improved their physical and mental well-being.

And how they’ve made a friend or two along the way…!

Beth Blake Davis

Beth Blake Davis and Debbie Johnson
Beth Blake Davis and Debbie Johnson

When Virginia Beach City Public Schools promoted a new wellness program in 2004 offering teachers a free initial membership fee, Beth Blake Davis found the Simon Family JCC. She had always believed in the benefits of being fit, and now, at 80 years old and retired, she feels that being fit has been invaluable.

Davis was raised Catholic, and it never crossed her mind that the Norfolk JCC would be a place for her. Through genealogy, she has since uncovered that a great-grandmother on her mother’s side was born Jewish, named Elenora Hyman Drake, and a great, great-grandmother on her father’s side, Katherine Jacoby Kessler, was also Jewish.

She has tried most of the classes at the Simon Family JCC, beginning with Life Fit, Zumba, Pilates, Yoga, and Stretch. Davis has even tried most of the equipment. Classes are her favorite because of the camaraderie with the other participants. In fact, participating for 20 years has encouraged friendships that she cherishes. Davis also enjoys the speakers who visit as part of the Lee and Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival, the nutrition classes, Wellness Day, art showings, and book sales.

During the last two decades, she has seen the JCC grow into a valuable community enterprise. Davis regards it as a bit of a hidden gem – out of sight in this little cul-de-sac. However, for many years, at school and other situations, she has been one of the JCC’s best ambassadors, bringing many friends to the center to enjoy what the JCC has to offer.

“The friendliness of the staff, from Jason at the front desk, Leigh and others in the lobby, to the great custodial staff, they all combine to make this a lovely place to be,” adds Davis. “I’ve seen many changes – Ray and Tony in the gym were always friendly and helpful instructors, and now Tom, too. The classes have expanded (my favorite is still Yoga) as has the equipment on the floor.”

Twenty years of good exercise has contributed to her staying healthy. When Davis started coming to the Simon Family JCC, there was a lovely woman in her Life Fit class with white hair. She thought, “If she can do it, then so can I!” Recently, on the way out of her Stretch class, this same woman was coming in for Pilates.
“So, Lonnie, thanks. You were my first inspiration!”

Walt Evans

Walt Evans
Walt Evans

As a young man, one of Walt Evans’ neighbors, Bernard Jaffe, offered him an open invitation to play basketball on his home court. In 1973, Evans joined the Norfolk JCC for this same purpose, playing pick-up ball with John Strelitz and Lonnie Slone, to name a couple. While he was disappointed at first that the facility was moving, the Simon Family JCC was actually closer to his home in Cypress Point. Evans has continued his membership.

“I call it the Taj Mahal – it’s unbelievable how wonderful it is,” says Evans, when comparing the old site to the Virginia Beach location. He stopped playing basketball at age 55; now, at 70 years old, he walks on the treadmill for over an hour, four days per week for his cardio work-out. “You can’t get injured walking on the treadmill.”

Evans says that the JCC fitness space is always clean and accessible, and the staff are passionate about what they do. “Ray is an outstanding employee, and Tom is the best fitness director you’ve had. I’m not interested in going anywhere else.”

Through Renew Active, Evans gym membership is covered by his health insurance.

Debbie Johnson

In 2004, Debbie Johnson joined the Simon Family JCC. Her grandchildren were very young at that time, ages one, four, and seven. The JCC was perfect, because it also provided daycare when the adults worked out.

Her grandchildren enjoyed the pool and participated in basketball, Yoga for children, and gym activities. Johnson has enjoyed Yoga, Pilates, swimming in the pool, Step, Zumba, water aerobics, Stretch, and Life Fit classes. Not only has the JCC been a source of fitness for her, but Johnson has met and made many friends there, too.

Prior to COVID, some classes included young parents whose children either attended Strelitz International Academy or whose younger children could be dropped off at the childcare center. However, since childcare is no longer available, most classes are attended only by seniors. Johnson says she prefers a more diverse age group.

A fan of water exercises, Johnson wishes there were more classes in the pool, though she understands that the availability of teachers is scarce. She adds, “The JCC does a good job providing daily classes and activities for seniors, and the dedication of our trainers, Tom and Regina, is greatly appreciated.”

Lonnie McLeod
Lonnie McLeod

Lonnie McLeod

A member of the JCC since the Norfolk days, Lonnie McLeod and her first husband joined when her sons were young. At 85 years old, recovering from a stroke and hip replacement, McLeod continues to work out at the Simon Family JCC twice per week, hoping to gain back enough strength to return to her five-day, weekly regimen.

Prior to her health set-backs, McLeod came to the JCC Monday through Friday, for one to two hours each day. While she used to attend Yoga classes, she has switched to Pilates, since it puts less pressure on the joints while also increasing her strength. “Pilates builds the core,” she adds. “At physical therapy, they call me ‘ballerina’ because I stand so straight!”

Exercising, breathing in oxygen, and just plain moving are the secrets to her fitness success. “Otherwise, people just freeze up.”