walking for life

NOTE:  Because of construction at the high school, the Older Adult Walking Group will continue to meet at Bethel Park Community Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. until further notice. Info, call Judy Gies, 412-343-4859.

In spring 2010, Johanna Sholder started a walking group for older adults at Mt. Lebanon High School track as part of her work toward a master’s certificate in geriatric education at Pitt. Her assignment was to set up a free community project that would become self-sustaining.


Johanna Sholder, at right, with Washington Road resident Ellie Del Monte, leads a group of senior walkers.

“My goal was (improving) quality of life,” Sholder says. An interview with Sholder that appeared in mtl in March 2010 drew a large audience to the library to hear her discuss the physical and social benefits of walking, and about 40 people showed up at the track for the initial walk session. Two years later, a core group of about a dozen regular walkers remains, and Sholder is pleased to report that their quality of life has improved even more than she had hoped.

“A beautiful story emerged,” she says. “These people, most of whom don’t have close relatives in the area, became fast friends—and they didn’t know each other before. They just totally got the idea that you walk to exercise but also to connect and to sustain each other.”

Judy Gies of McFarland Road, at 69, is the unofficial chair and the self-proclaimed “baby of the group,” which includes a number of divorced or widowed people, one married couple and a man and woman, 86 and 84, who are now dating.

“We started out thinking it was going to be a fitness things and it has turned into a friendship thing as well,” says Gies, who has occasionally enjoyed a movie or dinner with other members of the group. Better health, including improved blood work, reduced or zero pain meds, and in several cases, substantial weight loss, has been an unexpected but pleasant side effect, she adds. “One of the girls has arthritic issues and knee pain and she’ll say, ‘I didn’t really feel like coming today,’” Gies says, “but after two or three rounds of the track, she’ll say, ‘I feel better.’ I don’t know whether it’s physical or mental.”

Thanks to assistance from state Rep. Matt Smith, the Bethel Park Community Center opens its 1/10-mile indoor track to the group in the winter months, allowing them a safe, comfortable spot to walk and socialize. They’ll resume their outdoor walking at Mt. Lebanon High School track this month. Sholder originally intended to start the group, provide some initial support and move on. But she enjoys the people so much, she says, that she still shows up at least once a week, usually on Tuesdays, to walk and talk with them.

The program “has had more than the optimal outcome,” Sholder says. “They have lost weight, lowered their blood pressure, avoided surgeries—which is the point of a successful adult fitness program. “And they’re just happier,” she adds. “One woman sent me a Christmas card saying, ‘The best thing that happened to me this year is that I met these friends.’ We’ve just had so much fun.”

The library’s Wise Walkers group will be joining the Lebo Walkers this spring. Anyone is welcome. If you are interested, just show up on Tuesday, April 3, at 10:30 a.m. or on any Tuesday or Thursday morning after that. For more information, call Judy Gies at 412-343-4859.