Senior Games cyclist benefits from retirement community wellness center

When Bill Cloninger heard that a national athletic competition was going to take place in his own back yard, he knew he had to be part of it. To help him train for the National Senior Games, he also turned to a facility in his own neighborhood, the wellness center of South Franklin Circle (SFC), where he had been a member since early 2011.

Cloninger, 63, does not live at the Northeast Ohio retirement community, which is one of three that are part of Judson Services, Inc. Judson makes its wellness centers available to area residents who live in their own homes, however.

Frank Ondus, Judson Services’ vice president of wellness, developed two programs for Cloninger at his request—one to help the Bainbridge, Ohio, resident improve his cycling performance in the triathlons in which he participates with co-workers from KeyBank, where he is a corporate security investigator, and, later, one to help him qualify for and compete in the 5K and 10K cycling time trials of the National Senior Games. Cloninger works on strength training and conditioning with the staff at the wellness center, performing yoga, Pilates and stretching exercises to improve his flexibility and aerodynamics as well as decrease the likelihood of injury. His time at the wellness center supplements his other training.

“When we go into the fall and over the winter, because you can’t ride a bike [outside] very much in the winter, I go into their fitness/exercise area and work on weights, on flexibility, to get stronger, to have the foundation that I can exploit when I get out on the bike in the spring,” Cloninger said. “Frank has been instrumental in providing the foundation to have the cycling success that I’ve had. I couldn’t have done it without him.”

In the National Senior Games, Cloninger said he was “delighted” to place 17th among the 39 men in his 60–64 age category for the 10K cycling time trial on July 24, even though his time wasn’t a personal best. “This is a national event. It’s not a state event; it’s not a local event. This is the best in the country,” he said. “Considering where I’ve come from, to do that well, I’m delighted.” (You can read Cloninger’s firsthand account of his journey to the National Senior Games in the news section of Judson’s website.)

In the 5K time trial July 25, he placed 16th of 44 in his age group. Now he’s looking forward to cycling in an upcoming triathlon, where his team will compete in a men’s relay event.

SFC opened its wellness facilities to the surrounding community in August 2010, Ondus said. Today, 150 people are members, mirroring the wellness center membership at Judson Services’ Judson Park retirement community. Most members are aged at least 65 years, but up to 10 percent of them are younger than 60, he added. Fifteen to 17 full- and part-time Judson Services staff members, including instructors, lifeguards and massage therapists, focus on wellness. Instructors are certified by the Arthritis Foundation, he added.

The Judson wellness centers are attractive to those who live near them because “most people don’t commute more than 10 minutes to exercise,” Ondus said. In addition to offering convenience, he added, retirement communities can tout other benefits to area residents through their wellness centers:

  • Tailored amenities. Swimming pools may be “money pits” for facilities, but seniors appreciate them in general because exercising in them is less stressful on their knees, backs and hips (or replacement joints). The water in retirement center pools can be especially attractive to seniors because it generally is warmer than water in pools elsewhere. Ondus said that the SFC pool temperature is kept at 88 degrees, whereas competitive pools usually have water that is 79 or 80 degrees, YMCA pool water generally is kept at 83 to 86 degrees, and municipal pool water is kept at the lower end of that range. The warmer temperature isn’t ideal for swimming laps, he said, “but only about five percent to 10 percent of our people swim laps.”
  • Expertise. Retirement community wellness program leadership and staff generally are formally educated in exercise physiology, sports medicine and similar disciplines. “Unfortunately, in a lot of other places outside of the long-term care environment, people in our positions have more of a sales orientation,” Ondus said.

Cloninger said that SFC wellness center membership is a “good deal” for him, noting that he and his wife, Sandy, joined the center after a friend recommended it to them. (His wife primarily uses the pool, he added.) Membership involves a $60 enrollment fee and monthly dues ranging from $48 to $64 depending on where the member resides, according to Ondus. Residents of Judson properties don’t incur fees to use the centers at their locations.

Opening up their wellness centers to area residents is a good deal for retirement communities, too, Cloninger said. “It’s a good idea. If you have the facility and you have excess capacity, you can not only increase revenue to a small degree—it’s not a big money-maker—but also, you get people using your facility and getting comfortable with it, and in the long term, it opens up another feeder channel to get residents later in life,” he said.

Ondus said that Judson also offers wellness center membership to community members because it wants to “be a good neighbor.” The effort aligns with the company’s overriding philosophy to keep people educated, engaged and fit, he added, because “those three things help people take charge of the aging process.”

When it comes to health, “everything works better when people are active,” Ondus said, noting that exercise has been proven to slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, among other benefits. “It’s just [a matter of] picking the right activities and then progressing at the appropriate pace.”

Exercise can help people stay strong, avoid falls, enjoy their children and grandchildren and maintain their [self] worth, Ondus noted. That’s something everyone can feel good about.

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