Mar 13 2003 12:00AM
By Heather Clark
David West had not worked for about 10 years, so he did not expect much when he applied for a job for which he had no formal training.
Still, his self-education and life experience matched and exceeded any formal qualifications needed to be the instructor of a new Oak Creek recreation fitness program, "Fit for the 50s," designed for people 50 and older.
"He has an outstanding personality and he was very qualified," said Georgene Gabelbauer, coordinator of the Oak Creek Parks, Recreation and Forestry's Forever Young Club. "He showed a great deal of enthusiasm. É It was our privilege to employ him."
West has multiple sclerosis, a condition that is believed to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. In people with MS, the fatty tissue that surrounds and protects nerve fibers is lost, creating scar tissue. Those damaged areas can cause a number of problems, including vision or hearing loss, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors and stiffness.
The problems can be severe and unpredictable, so one day a person may be able to walk normally; the next, he or she may not be able to walk at all.
West's degree of multiple sclerosis forced him to take short-term disability about 10 years ago, and then he lost his job because the disease reduced his strength, an aspect key in his labor work.
He has learned to live and thrive with the condition, however, and that love of life and acceptance spills into his attitude and dedication to fitness.
"If I can do it, anybody can do it," he said with a chuckle. "I just have a good attitude, and I see it with other people who have MS. I just try to convince people there's more you can do than you think you can. É It's just a good time."
West's enthusiasm and dedication not only bring participants back week after week, but prompted the club and recreation department to offer the light weight-lifting program in two more six-week sessions. The second session begins Wednesday; the one-hour class meets Wednesday and Friday afternoons.
Participants are thrilled, and say the exposure has sparked an interest in health and fitness in all areas of their lives.
"It really has," said Lois Schmitz of Oak Creek. "I'm enjoying it. It encouraged me to go back to walking (in the evenings)."
For Anne Sandahl, the fitness class breathed new life for her.
"A year ago I suffered a (stroke) and was in a coma, and when I finally got better I was feeling so out of shape and depressed," she said. "When I saw the class, I went ahead and went.
"I really like it. I'm impressed by David, with his MS. My sister died of MS."
West, about a month shy of 50, was diagnosed about 10 years ago with the disease, though symptoms began when he was 19. The double vision went away for a while, then returned in his 20s.
Now, the disease is what it is, he said, and weight lifting and fitness is helping.
Three years ago, he joined the Oak Creek Gym and Fitness Center. After about two weeks, he said, he noticed the improvement. He has been hooked ever since.
West and his wife, Rosemary, have no formal education in fitness and nutrition, but they live it daily and are self-educated on the topics so they feel comfortable offering advice.
The biggest piece of information for those over 50 getting involved in a fitness program, Rosemary West said, is to drink water. She suggests two glasses to start the day.
"A lot of people, especially older people, don't have as strong of a thirst urge and it's important to have six to eight glasses per day," she said. "We also recommend a few healthy snacks and many meals, and make your meals a little smaller."
The Wests also encourage people to continue with cardiovascular activities or the light weight lifting on their own on days when class does not meet.
For Schmitz, whose family purchased weights and other fitness materials for her 70th birthday, the advice is working.
Sandahl, on the other hand, said she might have to work at it a little more because being in class really is what inspires her.
"Hopefully I can continue on the days I'm not there with walking," she said. "I have a bicycle too, but I'm not very motivated when I'm by myself."
The additional sessions, scheduled for late spring and summer, will help, she said.
"All of us have a good time, and we're toning our bodies too," Sandahl said.
In the meantime, the family of fitness buffs enjoys the little time they have together.
"There's lots of joking around and still we get our mission accomplished," Schmitz said. "The class is really relaxed and that's a big asset."
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Oak Creek Parks, Recreation and Forestry Forever Young Club's "Fit for the 50s" program
WHEN: 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays for six weeks beginning March 19
WHERE: Senior Day Room at Oak Creek Community Center, 8580 S. Howell Ave.
WHO: Call the Parks and Recreation Department to register, (414) 768-6515.
© Oak Creek Pictorial 2003