Nell Gillis, 87, and Gwen Binegar, 88, co-leader of the walking group. Photo by Esther Kang
In April of last year, Gwen Binegar, 88, began leading a small group of seniors from the Manhattan Beach Villas in a “walking Moai” as part of the Vitality City program.
The Moais are based on lifelong groups formed among people in Okinawa, Japan, a place National Geographic has identified as home to one of the healthiest, longest living populations in the world. When her Moai ended last June, Binegar told her friend Janet Murphy how much she had enjoyed the program.
“I was telling Janet about the walking group, and she said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if the villas could walk around the field?'”
So Murphy pitched the idea to Jan Buike, supervisor of Manhattan Beach Older Adults Program. She gave them the green light, assigning leadership to the two ladies.
It has since become a prolific, popular fixture on the Older Adults program calendar. The walking group meets at the soccer field on Park Avenue behind Manhattan Village three times a week for an hour: Mondays and Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 10 a.m.
The organized stroll, which started last September, brings out an average of 10 to 15 seniors, a majority of them residents at the Manhattan Beach Senior Villas. More than a year later, it has emerged as a tight-knit community of older folks who are as health-conscious as much as they enjoy the company of one another. Some, like Connie Iacopino, come from as far as Torrance.
Reg Barks, who turned 97 on Saturday, and Janet Murphy, co-leader of the walking group. Photo by Esther Kang
“It gives me a chance to get away from where I am, the same old things,” says Iacopino, who attends every Monday. “It’s nice. The other ladies and I have a chance to chat and get to know each other. We talk about our kids and certainly the weather.”
Also, the flat green surface of the soccer field is advantageous for the seniors, many of whom had been walking around parking lots and on streets.
“It’s a nice even surface so when Bertha comes with her walker, it’s easier for her,” Murphy says.
Back in May, Velma, another resident at the Villas, was taking a stroll through a nearby parking lot when a car inadvertently pulled out and hit her.
Gillis and Binegar walk a lap together. Photo by Esther Kang
“That reinforced the fact that we need to be walking in a safe place on the field instead of the parking lot,” Binegar adds.
Reg Barks, who turned 97 on Saturday, was a regular at the walking groups and known for his rigorous exercise routine.
“He’d go around the field six times with Isabel, his caretaker, and then he’d go over to the parking lot, go up the 57 steps, and come back down and go around two more times,” Binegar recalls with a smile.
But a few months ago, he caught pneumonia, which left him bedridden for a short period.
His recovery was evident on the soccer field, Binegar remembers. He first began circumventing with the help of a cane, then eventually made the laps on his own.
Four times around the soccer field equals a mile, a distance reached by the majority of the group.
Health benefits aside, the most enjoyable part of the walking group is “having someone to tell your stories to,” Binegar says.
Bernice Miranda, 84, agrees that good conversation is her favorite part about these strolls.
“We do our best talking when we’re walking,” Miranda says, laughing. “Talking and walking. It really makes you feel good when you can get out in the air and sunshine.”
Almost immediately, Binegar makes an announcement from a distance.
“Does someone want to do Tai Chi?”
Within five minutes, a group of four ladies stand in formation around Binegar as the rest of the group looks on from the bench.
Binegar leads a spontaneous Tai Chi session. Photo by Esther Kang
After 2:30 p.m., the group sitting near the bench gradually diminishes until Binegar is the last one standing.“Wait a second,” Binegar says. “We haven’t written down the attendance!”
Taken at the end of each walking group meeting, attendance is reported to Buike of Parks and Recreation to keep track of the record, she explains.
She takes out a clipboard and proceeds to take roll by memory: “Let’s see… We had Beatrice, we didn’t have Bertha…”
Eleven seniors, including herself, were there that afternoon.