Seniors walk to health |

Seniors walk to health

Susan Wood
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Helen Walker, left, and Yvonne Ponzo walk the indoor track at Kahle every day.

When Mother Nature dumped on the South Shore and closed schools last week, the blowing snow didn’t keep two seniors from their morning ritual at Kahle Community Center.

They were the first to show up at the door.

Like clockwork, Helen Walker, 76, and Yvonne Ponzo, 64, walk 21 laps at Kahle’s indoor track at 7 a.m. on Monday through Friday. The 1-1/2 miles takes 32 minutes to complete.

“It’s the perfect way to start the day,” Ponzo said during laps.

“It gets you going,” Walker piped in.

“It gets the cobwebs out,” Ponzo continued.

“She always says that,” Walker added.

The daily jaunt might not seem like much to the average athlete in an ultra endurance day and age. But to the old friends, it’s the best form of mental and physical therapy for them.

They don’t miss a day – “unless something detains us,” Ponzo said.

Walker strolls the track with one lung and a hip replacement. Along with suffering from asthma, Ponzo endured a near debilitating back injury when she slipped on the ice outside her Chimney Rock home in 1992. She fractured three vertebrae in her lower back.

By 2000, the pain in her back had worsened to the point she had surgery in which they removed two vertebrae.

“I couldn’t even stand up to cook,” she said.

“As you can see, I’m a success story. (Dr.) Mike Fry – I owe him my life,” she said.

Walking – at his urging – became a critical part of her recovery.

The Kahle indoor track accommodates their need for a flat surface.

The women have seen people come and go from the Kingsbury area gym.

They usually see the same people.

“Like this man,” Ponzo said, pointing to a man headed for the Nautilus machines.

They started out doing 10 laps, progressed to a mile and then added a half-mile.

“A mile and a half feels comfortable to us,” Ponzo said.

The pair became friends 40 years ago through their husbands, who worked at Sacramento Pacific Telephone. They remained friends through the years, comforting each other through the loss of Walker’s husband and loss of mobility.

That’s the story of good friends.

Sometimes they admit to being chatter boxes on their rounds. Other times, they hardly speak.

“That’s when we lose track (of the laps),” Walker said, while completing yet another.

“For the most part, I let my mind rest. I don’t think about anything. You just let the body go with the walk.”

Beyond strengthening their friendship and kicking off the day, walking has helped their physical conditioning.

“We’ve lost pounds, inches and clothes sizes,” Ponzo said.

“Except for my fall on the ice, this was the best thing that happened to us,” she said. “The No. 1 thing is, you need the motivation and drive to get going. But I would recommend everyone walk.”

Anthony Davis, who works at Kahle, relies on seeing the seniors every day.

“I tell people I’m lost without them. When the kids look to see if the schools are closed, someone has shoveled their driveway to get here. That’s dedication,” Davis said.

Walking has proven to be an overlooked but crucial form of regular exercise to doctors and physical therapists, who say these seniors are on the right track of conditioning.

“Because this is something we do to get from Point A to Point B, people take for granted simple walking. What they don’t understand is that people benefit from the sustained exercise,” physical therapist Jason Overholser said.

He recommends 20 minutes of exercise every day. It becomes more critical as people age since metabolism decreases but “our appetites don’t.”

He cites 60 percent of the American public being overweight.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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