Giving senior citizens a sporting chance

Grace Williams, a senior business sports management major, plans to start a fitness center for senior citizens.

For many seniors citizens, exercising at a gym filled with muscled youngsters can be a daunting experience. But Grace Williams, a senior business sport management major, hopes to change all that.  Using the skills learned at Union, she plans to open a fitness center designed for people over age 55.

At an early age, Williams learned to appreciate the struggles faced by older people. “I lived with my grandparents for half my life,” said the Arkansas native. “I feel like older people are often neglected or overlooked. Doctors tell them to exercise, but don’t always tell them how to exercise.”  She believes a combination of easily adjustable resistance weight machines, a facility for water aerobics classes, and trainers who understand their needs would make a great place for senior citizens to stay physically fit.

At Union, Williams’ major in business sport management is preparing her to keep both her business and her clients in great shape. In addition to exercise science, personal training and nutrition classes, she also takes courses like small business management. “I had to make a business plan and a financial plan for the class, so I made it for the company that I want to run some day,” she said.

As a requirement for her degree program, Williams found a summer internship at a local YMCA, netting her a job that continued into the school year. “They liked my different abilities,” she said. “I could teach swimming lessons and water aerobics. I knew the weight room and could be a personal trainer. Taking all those classes at Union proved very useful.”

But the experience also solidified her goal. Teaching fitness classes at the YMCA for people with multiple sclerosis helped her better understand how to help people with deteriorating muscles. “They use resistance machines that aren’t as dangerous,” she said. “If they have to let go, it won’t slam down. The weight will release back slowly and not to hurt them.”

Williams originally planned to attend physical therapy school, but a water aerobics class changed her mind. The first time she taught the class at the Larson Lifestyle Center—Union’s pool and fitness center which also serves the Lincoln community—she knew little about water aerobics and felt unprepared of the challenge.

Made up of mostly retirees, the class patiently allowed her to learn and as she made friends, she felt drawn to help them stay physically fit. “The baby boomer generation is getting older, so I feel there is definitely a need in that area,” she said. “All my experiences at Union and the internship at the YMCA—they all tied together to help me know what I want to do with my life.”