Story by Mallory McGowin | Apr 26, 2018
Photography by Keith Borgmeyer

Denise Kuebler is in the best shape of her life at 67 years young.

“Yes you can! Yes you can!” trainer, Sarah Harbour, emphatically tells the men and women in her Les Mills BodyPump class at the Sam B. Cook Healthplex as they collectively push through one of the nearly 1,000 strength training reps they go through in the class. In that moment, as she is most every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 67-year-old Denise Kuebler is set up in her favorite spot in the second row.

Denise has always been an active woman. “I don’t sit still well,” she sheepishly admits. Denise played softball in high school. As a working mother, she made time for some sort of exercise before or after work at the Missouri Department of Transportation. “I’ve had a stationary bike at home. I’ve had a treadmill,” she says. “And a long time ago, I did the ‘Buns of Steel’ videotapes. Those were actually pretty hard!”

In those days, Denise’s workouts mostly consisted of walking, often pounding the pavement several miles at a time. But her fitness journey changed in the year 2000, just after she turned 50. “That fall,” she says, “I knew winter was coming and a friend of mine was a member here. I said, ‘I’ve got to do something different for winter. I can’t sit all winter.’ My friend said, ‘Go check out the Healthplex.’ So that’s what I did.”

Denise and her husband joined and began their workouts upstairs, walking on the treadmill and taking advantage of the guided strength training programs the Healthplex offers to members. A few years into Denise’s Healthplex membership, Larsen Daehnick, fitness facilities coordinator and senior exercise physiologist, tempted Denise with a challenge.

“One day I was upstairs walking on the treadmill — this was after I retired in 2004 — and Larsen said, ‘Come down and take a class.’ I said, ‘I don’t do those classes. I don’t do aerobics.’” Larsen assured her this class was different: a strength training class with repetitions set to music, not the stereotypical aerobics class Denise might have in mind.

Always one to try new things, Denise considered giving it a shot, but there was a brief moment of hesitation upon entering the Healthplex studio downstairs. She says: “I thought, ‘Oh, I’m too old. I can’t keep up with these young ones.’”

But Denise resisted the urge to bolt for the door. She stuck with it, and now, 14 years later, she’s in the best shape of her life. Denise works out five days a week, attending the midday Les Mills classes offered at the Healthplex (sometimes completing two intense classes back-to-back), surrounded by other members young enough to be her children or grandchildren. “I just think, ‘Well, if everybody else is doing it, I’m just going to do it too,’” Denise says. “I just keep up with everybody else. That’s what I do. And every day, I’m just glad I survived — each class, I think, ‘Oh, I made it! I got through it!’ And I’m so glad when it’s over.”

While Denise might be surprised she makes it through each class, Sarah Harbour is not. “More often than not, our participants are stronger than they give themselves credit for,” Sarah says. “We notice with each class or training session that these individuals have gained a sense of self-confidence and strength that allows them to push to a level they never thought was possible.”

Like many of us, Denise admits she doesn’t push herself when exercising on her own. “At home, if you’re supposed to do something 15 times, I might only do 10,” she confesses. “In the classes here, they just kind of make you do it. The instructors are really good, every single one of them. They encourage you and they push you to do stuff that I would not do at home.”
Denise’s primary motivation to exercise regularly is to manage her weight. But she can also proudly attest to many of the added benefits that come along with a commitment to exercise. “I just feel good,” she says. “I feel better when I come here. And if I don’t come, I feel kind of sluggish. It’s also a stress reliever — a big stress reliever for me. And in these classes, you actually do meet some people and become friends.”

When asked what she would say to men and women of a certain age who might be hesitant to step outside their comfort zone and into a group fitness class, Denise’s response is simple. “Look how old I am!” she exclaims. “So you can do it! I was old when I started. You know, here they don’t care if you’re old or young or whatever. Just c’mon. Just keep coming. Just keep going. Just do it.”

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