Saratoga Grove Residents take Aging in Stride

DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. (August 2010) – For some athletes, pushing through that extra mile can mean the difference between a great workout and an average one.


Jim Ulrich, 85 and Clara Zuidema, 93 are members of the Saratoga Grove Senior Walking Club. They have walked over 75 miles and 69 miles, respectively.

For residents at a Downers Grove retirement community, just strapping on the sneakers takes will power and drive. But step by step, their walking regimen has provided motivation, inspiration and purpose.

Residents of Saratoga Grove retirement community formed a Walking Club last July. In one year, together they have walked nearly 3 million steps. Community relations director Francine Myers said the 16 members have walked 505 miles in a year – which is like walking from Downers Grove to Charleston, W.Va.

Jim Ulrich, 85, walked the farthest in the group at 75 miles in one year. Ulrich has been a resident for two years after having a massive stroke.

“In one split second everything changed,” Ulrich said. “I was almost dead. When I am walking, I am not thinking about it too much then. It takes my mind off (the pain).”

Ulrich said he walks at least 1,000 steps a day and keeps track of his steps with a pedometer. At the end of the day, he writes his total number of steps on a calendar.

Myers said the goal of the retirement community is to enrich the lives of their residents and the walking has helped many gain more confidence and energy to participate in activities.

“I do it to keep fit,” Ulrich said. “I am not trying to break records. It is fun doing it. I get some pleasure out of it and it is challenging. If you don’t have a challenge, you might as well quit.”

One of the challenges is the competition between members to see who can walk the farthest, Myers said.

Clara Zuidema, 93, is another member of the Walking Club who is right behind Ulrich at 69 miles.

“When I came here I thought, I am not going to be just sitting here idle not doing anything,” Zuidema said. “My doctor told me I should walk because it increases your oxygen level.”

Zuidema said there are days she has to force herself to walk around but knows it’s best for her health.

She has limitations due to a pacemaker and a nitroglycerine patch she uses every night.

“I am not trying to beat everybody,” Zuidema said. “I know it is good for me, and that’s why I do it.”

Zuidema will normally be seen walking inside as the sunshine prevents her from walking outdoors.

“To keep them active and still getting their exercise is very important with these ages,” Myers said. “We noticed those with walkers standing up a little straighter and they are just feeling more confident.”

The older residents in the community are coming in healthier and more eager to walk, which inspires the younger ones in the community who don’t think they can exercise, Myers said. With this generation, a fitness center is an unfamiliar, so when they get into the classes and working out it is less intimidating.

“They are afraid,” Myers said. “That is why we have an open house. The machines are very big and strong, but they are made especially for seniors. They are not intimidating; it is just a matter of each resident trying a machine at their own pace.”

As reported by Janice Hoppe, Downers Grove Reporter. Some rights reserved. Copyright 2010.

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