Posted 04/03/2019 12:30:56 PM by Tanya Colaco

One of our core values here at the YMCA is to lead by example. At 90 years old, volunteer fitness instructor Nina Graham is the perfect embodiment of that! Read on to learn more about her (and get inspired in the process).

On Becoming a Fitness Instructor

Nina first started volunteering at the Robert Lee YMCA as a fitness instructor at 87 years old and hasn’t slowed down since. She leads the Total Sculpt Gold class every Wednesday. While she’s only been teaching for three years, her fitness journey started long before that.

“I used to work at the Worker’s Compensation Board. They brought in Kinesiology students from SFU who did lunch time classes and after work classes. I wasn’t really into exercise too much but I thought, ‘why not give it a try?’ So, I just started with them and have been going on ever since. That was over forty years ago!”

Since then, Nina’s passion for fitness hasn’t faded. A few years ago, she participated in a study by UBC in collaboration with the YMCA of Greater Vancouver. The aim was to find out if seniors exercised better in senior-only classes or classes that had a mix of age groups. After a few classes in, the instructor asked Nina if she would be able to lead one of the sessions. “I’d never done it before but I said that I’d try. After about two times of leading the class, they asked me if I could be an instructor. I did that for two years for the full length of the study,” Nina recalled.

Shortly after that, the YMCA ran an Active Senior Living course. Linda Lee, a friend of Nina’s, was eager to participate and encouraged Nina to do the same. At first, Nina wasn’t sure but after some coaxing, she and Linda both signed up for the program. This, of course, lead Nina down the path of becoming a volunteer fitness instructor at the Robert Lee YMCA!

On Staying Motivated

We can all agree that Nina’s story is nothing short of inspirational. When we asked her why she continues to volunteer at the Y at 90 years old, she promptly said, “that’s easy. It’s the people! I have the greatest little class and I love them.” She went on to explain, “I’m older than everybody and they’re so tolerant of me. I feel so lucky that I can do it. I’m not blasé about it; I know that I’m lucky.”

Her class at the YMCA isn’t the only time Nina works up a sweat. She also exercises at the West Richmond Community Centre. “I enjoy working out because of the people. The people are the hook!” she explained. “I especially like to work out with younger people. It’s an entirely different level of aerobics that we’re doing and it’s a bit of a challenge.”

When Nina isn’t volunteering at the Y or working out, she’s busy dedicating her time elsewhere. She’s been a volunteer for Canadian Blood Services for 29 years and the West Richmond Community Centre for 28 years. Her long tenure as a volunteer hasn’t gone unnoticed. Very recently, she was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers!

“What am I doing here if I’m not of use to any one?” Nina said when reflecting on her volunteer work. “If I’m not of use, what’s the point? I’ve always tried to be useful. If I stay at home, I’m in trouble.”

On Inspiring Others

Nina is a lovely soul with a huge heart but that doesn’t mean she’s soft on her students. She pushes them to get the most out of their work out and reap its benefits. “A lot of people tell me that I’m their motivator because I’m old. I’ve got a lot of energy and I holler and shout throughout the class,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m not subdued at all and they just go right along with me. A lot of them think, ‘well, if that old lady could do it, I could do it too.’”

Over the course of volunteering at the Robert Lee YMCA, Nina has had many gratifying moments. “I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that they’ve lost a lot of weight since starting the class or their bones are feeling better, or that they’re moving easier,” Nina said. “They’ve said how much better they feel and I like that.”

On Her Experience with the Y

Over the course of leading a fitness class at the Y, Nina has made many good friends. Upon thinking about her experiences volunteering for the organization, she said, “it has made a difference in my life. It has broadened my scope and my knowledge and I’ve met so many more people. I get so many opportunities to mix with all types of people. I even volunteered for a golf tournament!”

On Values

At the Y, we believe in doing the right thing, putting people first, keeping our promises and leading by example. When discussing this, Nina said, “I agree with all of those values. I think all of us should live by the same thing. I agree with them all and that we should all observe them,” Nina said.

On Words of Wisdom

We couldn’t end our conversation with Nina without asking her for some sage advice. For newcomers to her class, Nina always instructs them to not worry about what other people are doing. “I always tell them that ‘this is your class’. Everything can be moderated, so give it a try,” she said.

Finally, Nina imparted this last piece of very important advice: “Everything in moderation!”

About Tanya Colaco

Tanya is the Digital Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the YMCA of Greater Vancouver. She’s an avid foodie, enjoys learning new things and loves to travel. Tanya is also an “animal person” and can never resist petting any cat or dog that crosses her path!

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