Helping Seniors Hit Their Stride
Steve Colwell inspires older adults to fitness through Striders, a walking program he developed in the Northwest.
Subject: Steve Colwell
Organization: Striders, a nonprofit community walking and exercise program in Spokane and Spokane Valley, Washington, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
A Career Transition. “After careers in music—with two nonprofit international programs—and real estate, I wanted to follow my heart’s desire to use the last decades of my working life promoting my lifelong passion for wellness through regular exercise,” Colwell says. He is now a certified personal trainer and specialist in older-adult fitness.
Creating Striders. When Colwell was working as a personal trainer at North Idaho Fitness in 1994, he and the owner discussed ways to reach more people, especially older adults. “I wanted to expand what I was doing out into the community. I thought that by going to the mall, a place where people walked, I could interest people in fitness,” he says. “Even if seniors already walked, they weren’t always doing strength and flexibility training. I talked to mall management about offering classes there [before the mall opened for the day] that would focus on these components. We started with four walkers, and now over 500 people have participated in classes.”
Motivating Older Adults. Striders promotes good physical and mental health through fitness and fun activities and is a part of PED—Prevention, Education and Development, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization offering programs for successful aging. In addition to the strength, flexibility and balance classes taught by certified instructors in each Striders location twice a week, the program encourages partici- pants to walk regularly on their own or in groups in area malls and neighborhoods and on walking trails. Local merchants provide awards for miles walkers achieve, and the organization holds awards meetings every 2 months to honor walkers and educate them about a health topic. Participants also receive a bimonthly newsletter with relevant health and fitness information that Colwell writes. The majority of Striders are older adults, ages 55–91, representing a variety of physical conditions.
Making a Difference in the Community. As Striders continued to grow, Colwell decided to stop personal training and focus on growing the organization and spreading the message of health and fitness to older adults. He also runs the Walking Program, a competitive walking challenge for retirement communities and senior centers in the summer, and he wants to start an all-ages, citywide walking program for Spokane. In addition, he teaches a tai chi class at a fitness facility and is a frequent speaker on older-adult health and fitness at local conferences and seminars. “I take every chance I get to put myself in front of an audience to tell them the good news about fitness.”
Why Clients Like Striders. Ask Colwell the benefits people get from Striders classes and walks, and he gives you several, including the social benefits of making new friends and walking partners. “Sometimes I am floored by the benefits people credit to Striders,” he says. “Specific health benefits and improvements include lower blood pressure and cholesterol, maintenance of chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis, increased energy and strength, weight control and better mental outlook. For example, Bonnie Rosenberger, a 71-year-old Strider said, ‘My children are amazed that I can do everything they can do and some things better. I feel like a well-oiled machine, but an old one!’”
Biggest Challenge. Although Striders has grown since the beginning, Colwell says that his biggest challenge is to continually grow the program. “As with any group, you lose people due to various issues. We don’t have a large budget, so we can’t advertise in the traditional sense. We really want to reach the people who need it most—those who are completely sedentary.”
Why He Loves His Work. Colwell has been passionate about fitness and sports his entire life—one reason he became a personal trainer. “In my work I see the positive changes happening in people’s lives from a health standpoint,” he says. “I see that I am making a contribution to people’s health. That is very satisfying and rewarding to me and it motivates me to keep going.”
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