Helene Young has a warning for her fellow senior citizens: If you don't use it, you lose it.
The 99-year-old Galloway Township resident practices what she preaches.
Young was one of about 10 senior adults who recently participated in the six-week Zumba Gold classes at Cedar Creek High School through the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Adult Education program.
"A lot of people are too quick to say they can't, but I think everybody can do something. You just have to make up your mind to get moving," said the energetic nonagenarian.
Young, who has limited vision, said she has never used that as an excuse to stop being active.
In this case, she was able to follow the steps by watching the dance instructor's white sneakers.
"When she kicked, I kicked. When she moved left or right, I made my feet do the same. It's really not that big of a deal," explained Young, who had the distinction of also being the oldest in the class.
Young is a well-known community figure. A lifelong resident, she was the local face of the national March of Dimes organization, a nonprofit that works to improve the health of mothers and babies. She worked on behalf of the organization for 40 years, canvassing the surrounding communities, always on foot, to collect donations.
Now she is more widely identified with her late sister, Egg Harbor City's Peace Pilgrim, and for the past few years has crusaded to keep her sister's legacy alive.
Nancy Messinger, of Egg Harbor City, who has been a certified Zumba instructor since 2008, calls Young "a real inspiration to all women."
"To me, it's not that supermodel on a cover of a magazine with a thin body. It's people like her still staying active, still healthy, still engaged in life. That's inspiring," said Messinger, who said she is in her 40s and hopes to have Young's energy level when she gets older.
If Young is inspirational to women, then her Zumba Gold classmate Frank Persello is a role model for men, Messinger said.
At age 92, the Galloway Township resident often is Young's driver to various activities and is a regular at area senior centers where he participates in tai chi, chair yoga and other exercise-related classes.
"These two are unbelievable," said Messinger. "If you need any motivation to keep moving and live well, they are it."
Young doesn't necessarily consider herself an exercise or healthy living role model, although getting exercise is important to her every day of her life. She bikes five to 10 miles a day, does calisthenics and regularly picks up trash along the highway near her Cologne home.
"I hope I inspire others by the way I live, not how I live. I try to be a positive influence and live for the day in peace with nature and each other," Young said. "That's what my sister always said, and now my mission is to carry on her message."
Young said now that the warmer weather is here she probably won't take any more indoor exercise classes until the fall. Her preference is to be outdoors as much as possible.
"But I do have the urge to dance," she chuckles. "So if anyone wants to go ballroom dancing, I'm in."
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