PEOSTA, Iowa >> Christa Walters gracefully lowered herself until she was parallel with the Peosta Community Centre floor and her back was as flat as a board.
The women around Walters, willing participants in the recent workout session, groaned in pain. But they knew the more they complained, the longer they would have to hold the position.
To pass the time, they told stories, joked and laughed as much as they could tolerate without collapsing.
For the past nine years, Walters has been instructing a “Get Fit” workout class Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the community center. And although she recently celebrated her 80th birthday, she has no plans to slow down or retire from her weekly exercise routine.
“(Class participants) said, ‘Christa, if you quit, we are coming to your house,’” Walters told the Telegraph Herald. “I don’t feel my age. I don’t feel 80. It’s just a number.”
Walters said she always has loved working out.
Growing up in Mannheim, Germany, she practiced ballet regularly. But after she married Ronald, who served in the U.S. Army, she moved to Guttenberg, Iowa, and discarded her old pointe shoes in favor of running shoes. She also set up a workout area in the basement of their home.
When she moved to Dubuque 12 years ago, she began taking classes at the Peosta Community Centre. She later was approached by her instructor, who asked her to begin teaching classes at the facility.
“She said, ‘Christa, you are the only one I can think of that can do that,’” Walters said. “I always exercised. It was nothing new to me, but telling people what to do was.”
When it came to learning about different workout routines and stretches, Walters used the same method she used in the past to learn English. Specifically, she watched TV and read.
Walters’ class has 12 to 14 regular members who attend every week. But sometimes the class overflows with walk-ins and she has to move over to the gym, she said.
Alaine Jamison, 66, of Bernard, said she has been attending Walters’ class for more than two years. She said Walters’ dedication inspires her to keep trying and pushing herself during workouts.
“She changes the class each time,” Jamison said. “We do something different every time, and you can tell she thought everything out, so she’s always very well prepared. She inspires us — her age (and) what she can do.”
The majority of regular members in Walters’ class are more than 60 years old, but it is not just a class for seniors. It’s open to everyone, Walters said.
“When I started we called it a senior class, but we changed it because no one likes to be called a senior,” she said. “We are mature people.”
Stacey Bauer, executive director of the Peosta Community Centre, said she and another employee approached Walters about leading the class because they knew she could do it.
“Christa was just one of those amazing fitness attendees that we thought would be a great teacher,” Bauer said. “I think it’s her personality. I think it’s that age demographic. I think it’s also a bond they have created with the atmosphere that she creates.”
Walters said her favorite exercise to teach is stretching. She knows how important it is and wants to ensure her students practice the habit.
“We always stretch,” she said. “We enjoy doing everything. We do planks. If I am in a bad mood, we do five minutes of planks. They learn how to stretch. They couldn’t even touch their toes before my class.”
Following the hourlong class, Walters goes out to brunch with a few of her class members once per month. Over the years, she has gotten to know her students on a personal level.
“Obviously, how much I do for them, they do just as much for me,” she said. “I have never met nicer people in my life — every one of them. It’s almost like friendship. We talk about everything.”
But during class there isn’t much time for chitchatting. Otherwise, Walters will blow her whistle, she said.
Before class begins in the morning, Walters sometimes finds herself struggling to get started. But once they are moving, it’s worth it.
“You have to do it,” Walters said. “Sometimes I say, ‘I have equipment at home,’ but you’re never going to use it. I know one lady said to me I am her best chiropractor ever.”