CENTRAL COLLEGE ISN’T LIKE THE REST OF THE WORLD.
With 50 percent of students involved in sports, campus is packed with athletes training for speed, strength and endurance.
This environment presents a challenge for exercise science students. After they graduate from Central, many work with people across a far broader range of physical ability — especially many older adults, the fastest-growing age group in the nation.
IN THE CLASSROOM
That’s why exercise science majors complete the Fitness after Fifty class. Taught by Katelin Gannon, this course gives students the knowledge they need to develop safe and effective exercise programs for older adults. Also, after eight weeks’ instruction, students gain hands-on experience to be qualified and comfortable leading these programs.
Gannon, a lecturer of exercise science and assistant women’s soccer coach, partners with Vriendschap Village and Hearthstone retirement communities, Marion County Senior Nutrition Center and Mahaska County YMCA to expand students’ experiences. At each site, students take advantage of different opportunities — from water aerobics to fall prevention exercises — to meet community needs and apply what they learn in class.
“It’s easier to get experience with young, able, athletic people,” Gannon says. “This opens students’ eyes to the opportunities and challenges of a population that is new and different to them.”
IN THE COMMUNITY
The best part of Fitness after Fifty, Gannon says, is that it helps exercise science students pursue career goals while helping the community.
Vriendschap Village in Pella was the first partner for Gannon’s class. There, students practice by helping residents exercise to avoid falls. After six Central students served at Vriendschap Village this year, community life director Sarah Crisp says she wants them all back for another round.
“They all did an amazing job,” Crisp says. “The residents have all mentioned that they felt really blessed by them.” Crisp says the Central students were eager to help and showed great respect for all residents — especially the memory care patients they helped.
In Knoxville, another group of students served at the Marion County Senior Nutrition Center this year. LJ Lipscomb ’15, an exercise science major from Johnston, Iowa, says he was amazed how interested the participants were. “They wanted to learn to breathe better during exercises,” Lipscomb says. “I love working with people who are interested.”
Lipscomb says his class members had many reasons for exercising. Some wanted to feel better every day, while others wanted strength to help care for grandchildren. A few members surprised Lipscomb by how fit they were. “They could do the balance exercises better than we could,” he says.
IN THE WATER
In Oskaloosa, students joined older YMCA members in the pool for water aerobics. After learning the workouts, Central students took over the class as instructors.
Caitlynn Bruscher ’16, an exercise science major from Des Moines, says she was amazed on her first service day. “This is a lot more intense than I thought it would be!” she says.
Bruscher was further surprised by teasing, splashing, nicknames and conversation that made her experience with the older adults so much fun. “They loved picking on us,” she says.
Ryan Harkema, the sports, fitness and aquatics director, says he loves having Central students at the YMCA, where a high percentage of members are over 50. Harkema says he also recruits Central students for internships because he knows relevant service experiences will help them succeed. “I was once a student myself,” Harkema says. “I know it’s really important to get good experience.”
IN THE REAL WORLD
Every student in Fitness after Fifty gains new skills, Gannon says — and some also find a career path.
After serving at Vriendschap Village, Ashley Wiederin ’09 became a personal trainer to retired professor of music Ray Martin, who has Alzheimer’s. Robin Martin, Ray’s wife and retired Geisler Library director, says Wiederin embraced Martin and the opportunity to work with him.
“Ray always enjoyed shooting baskets,” Robin says. “His goal was to shoot 10 baskets in a row. It probably took most of a year — Ashley was so wonderful.”
Wiederin also gave one-on-one training to director of community based learning Cheri Doane before and after Doane had both knees replaced.
“She helped get me through it,” Doane says, “to the point that six months later, I rode a bicycle river to river.”
Before graduating from Central, Wiederin also completed an internship in a Kansas City corporate wellness center, where she taught fitness classes. Wiederin has since become a certified corrective exercise specialist and worked for Omaha WellBound Boomer & Senior Fitness and MediFit Corporate Services. This year, Wiederin will complete a master’s degree in applied exercise science from Concordia University Chicago.
Wiederin says she grew tremendously from her service experiences because they related directly to her major. “The hands-on experience helped solidify what we learned in class,” Wiederin says. “I can explain anything in exercise science jargon, but I need to break it down for other people to understand. And if you can’t explain it, you don’t know it well.”
Next, Wiederin would like to complete a Ph.D. in kinesiology so she can teach exercise science and give other students opportunities like she had. “Having professors who cared what I learned is what got me where I am,” Wiederin says. “I got a lot out of what I learned at Central because I used it.”
Alayna Bailey ’14, another exercise science graduate, also served at Vriendschap Village while studying Fitness after Fifty. Bailey was eager to fill this role. “Working with older adults has always been one of my biggest passions,” Bailey says, “so it was really great to jump-start that process and start working with them.”
Even if students don’t share Bailey’s interest, she believes the experience is vital. Since graduation, Bailey has worked with older adults every day, sometimes instructing 30 at once. “The class directly applies to what I’m doing now,” Bailey says.
Bailey has worked as fitness specialist and community health advocate at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. She is now wellness coordinator for Park Centre, a retirement community in Newton, Iowa.
“It’s always refreshing to go into a group of older adults,” Bailey says. “You never expect them to be so fun and lighthearted, but it is fun and exciting. They have a lot to offer the younger generation.”
IN THE REAL FUTURE
Next school year, new partnerships will help exercise science students grow professionally and serve their community. Gannon plans to expand her Adapted P.E. course to include service learning. This class teaches graduates to personalize training for each student in a P.E. class — a skill they will practice with new community partners.
Pam Richards, associate professor of exercise science, says these opportunities are important ways to show that any person — at any age — can use exercise for better health. “Age is not the source of disease — it’s inactivity,” Richards says. “As exercise scientists, we believe exercise is the answer to the public health crisis.”