Stepping into fitness: Program gets seniors moving

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Participants in the Step Crew, a weekly walking group, meet up Wednesday mornings to enjoy fitness as well as the public parks in the area. Recreation Community Engagement Coordinator Kaci Wehr led Diann Zehr, left, Shirley Hurst and Dave Wahl, all of Jasper, in a warm-up and stretch before walking along the Riverwalk Wednesday morning in Jasper.

Herald News Intern

JASPER — With a passion for promoting health and wellness to those who have reached their older years in life, Jasper Parks and Recreation Community Engagement Coordinator Kaci Wehr introduced a new program, Step Crew, at the Older American Center in May.

“It is kind of something we are just trying out,” she said. “We are trying to bring our seniors into our parks.”

Each Wednesday, Wehr and her crew meet at a community park to walk, learn about fitness and wellness and to enjoy each other’s company. She allows the seniors to walk at their own pace, which she says is key.

“I think bringing them together gives them a sense of community and hopefully they can build friendships through it as well,” Wehr said. It is evident that the crew has become friends through their engaging conversations and friendly jokes throughout the walks.

Wehr, 27, is a Schnellville native who has extensive experience in the field of health and wellness. She earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, or kinesiology, and a minor in psychology from the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. She was also a member of the women’s cross country and track teams at the school and worked as a student trainer. She has certification through the American College of Sports Medicine and is a certified exercise physiologist. Most recently, she received an Exercise is Medicine credential from the American College of Sports Medicine.

“This allows me to promote exercise as a source of medicine with local community doctors and physicians,” she said.

After attending college, Wehr worked at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center as a health educator, endorsing both community and corporate wellness. She has also worked at the French Lick Resort as a fitness coordinator and Health Pointe in Jasper as a personal trainer.

Each Wednesday, Wehr and her crew meet at a community park to walk, learn about fitness and wellness and to enjoy each other’s company. 

Wehr began working for the City of Jasper as community engagement coordinator in March of this year. Always having a passion to work with seniors, she was thrilled to accept the position with the Older American Center.

She now resides in Duff with her husband, Caleb, and their daughter, Hallie.

Shirley Hurst of Jasper, a member of the Step Crew, has walked every morning at Bohnert Park for 29 years. She typically starts her walks at 6:30 a.m.

“I usually do about four laps, and it is about a half mile from my house over to the park,” Hurst said as she walked with the Step Crew Wednesday morning at the Riverwalk.

“She does 3 miles every day,” Wehr added, impressed with the Hurst’s fitness.

Hurst likes the change in scenery at the Riverwalk with the Step Crew since she had gotten so used to her usual Bohnert Park route.

Dave Wahl of Jasper, wants to be able to walk faster and farther.

“Keep it up!” Diann Zehr of Jasper encouraged Wahl.

“Yeah if you just keep on walking with Shirley, you’ll do great,” Wehr said.

Wehr also instructs fitness classes at the Arnold F. Habig Community Center; some of the Step Crew participates in those classes as well.

Wahl attends classes twice a week, on both Monday and Thursday mornings. However, his favorite activity is when Wehr teaches the seniors a variation of line dances, such as “Rocky Top” and “Cotton Eye Joe.”

“Oh yeah, we even dance, you should see us,” Hurst said.

In addition to engaging and enhancing social wellness, Wehr also hopes to provide the Step Crew with physical, mental and emotional wellness.

“If you think about your body as a car, if you let it sit, if you let your mind sit, you let yourself physically sit, your emotional wellness, it will eventually start to deteriorate,” Wehr said. “So what I would like to promote and provide is that opportunity to keep that engine going.”

Beginning in August, Wehr will initiate a new program to replace Step Crew, called Senior STEP, or Seniors Striving Toward Empowerment and Purpose. Similar to Step Crew, STEP will entail a 45-minute walk, ending with a 30-minute wellness informational session. The program is open to Dubois County residents age 55-plus. Topics to be discussed include: “Is Your Body a Pharmacy?” “Grazing and Smart Shopping” and "Exercise is Medicine."

“For Step Crew, we meet at a different park each month, for the entire month,” Wehr said. “With STEP, we will rotate which park we go to each week. Step Crew is kind of the beginning steps and we are continuing to build from there.

“These seniors are so wonderful, they are a true blessing.”

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