The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Darlene Erickson

When Active at the Y, Age is 'Only a Number'


Darlene Erickson's Y friends are eager to talk about her when she's not around: She's friendly. She's personable. She's always smiling. She's very active. She certainly doesn't look her age. This isn't gossip. They're describing a wonderful lady they've gotten to konw over many years. After morning exercise classes, they always meet at the large round table in the left back corner of the YMCA-La Crosse Branch lobby, the side closest to the swimming pool - and the coffee pots. Earlier in their get-togethers, the group pulled smaller tables together to comfortably fit everyone. Then they began asking Y staff for a larger round table. As one woman sweeps out her arm to show-off the table, she says, "And here it is. What we asked for, we were given. They're so good to us at the Y." The women laugh and nod in agreement. 


As though they've given away a secret, they grin and giggle even more when Darlene walks into the lobby and over to what appears as the most popular spot. Echoing their sentiments, she says, "I've met many nice friends here at the Y. I've developed many friendships." In the mornings, the table is like a magnet, attracting people to casually socialize, over matters large and small. Anywhere from six to 20 members come and go from the table. Some members may or may not have exercised in the same classes as Darlene. Anyone - men included - is welcome to have a seat, talk or listen, have coffee or just water and sometimes, someone brings treats to share around the table. "We didn't mean to confiscate this corner. It just happened," Darlene says with her trademark naturally pretty smile. "We're part of the Y's big, friendly community."


Darlene easily shares that she's been regularly active at the Y since she turned 40 years old, doing water aerobics as her work schedule allowed. Now, she's 69-years-old - and her friends are right - she doesn't appear to be near 70. When she retired from her cosmetology career, she wanted to remain active. She also needs exercise to keep her diabetes, which she was diagnosed with at age 25, under control. "And it takes more than exercise," says Darlene, lightly tapping on a small black box, her blood glucose meter. "I have to watch what I eat too."


During the week, Darlene loves to work-out in the Y's morning group exercise classes. Every day she takes a different session, including Silver Sneaker aerobics and stretching, yoga, and water aerobics. By the time she exercises, showers, and socializes, she's at the Y "a good couple of hours," she says. "The exercise instructors - and all the staff - are always friendly. I like having different instructors. It gives me a good variety of exercises and it keeps me interested," she says. "The instructors treat everyone the same, and they're very welcoming. They are neat people on the outside and the inside."


When she's not at the Y, Darlene and her husband, John, enjoing marriage for 46 years and living in La Crescent, Minn., are dedicating to volunteering. Darlene most likes working behind the scenes, from delivering "Meals on Wheels" to assisting local food shelves. She also likes to golf with friends for fresh air and more exercise. These are yet other indicators that her age hasn't slowed her down. "I don't feel my age," she says with confidence. "To me, age is only a number. You're only as old as you feel. You can keep yourself young." Her great attitude about age enhances her easy-going smile. "I've always been a smiley person," Darlene says. "When I was a child, I was told that it's just as easy to put a smile on your face, as it is a frown. I would rather put on a smile."


- By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC. 2014