“Drill Sergeant” Finley - Keeping fitness class on their toes

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They call her the “drill sergeant.”

While this certainly gives you a bold first impression, Diane Finley doesn’t consider herself much of an expert in combat training or any other strenuous activity.

Finley leads a workout class called Fit & Flex at the Elkader Fitness Center. The class has a loyal following of about 30 women, ages 60 to 87.

Finley, 75, of Elkader, has no formal training or certifications. Three years ago, she was a class participant who would occasionally substitute for regular instructor Carolin Phippen. Well, one thing led to another.

“This is the longest I’ve subbed for a class,” she jokes. “I just kind of took it on, because I need the exercise as much as everyone else.”

Finley earned the nickname “drill sergeant” because she clearly knows how to lead and motivate. Yes, she will yell orders to get her students’ blood pumping and muscles flexing. But she also knows how to have fun and not take herself too seriously.

“My role is to push these women to do more than they think they can,” says Finley. “We adapt exercises for people who have limits. But we always encourage each other to do what we can, and to keep moving.”

The class meets for an hour four mornings a week. The first half of class includes stretching and cardio to get the heart rate up, and the last half includes resistance training using hand-held weights, bands, body bars and stability balls.

The group likes the workout but it’s the extras that keep people coming back.

For example, Finley peppers workouts with jokes and stories. Recently, she led a discussion about healthy fast food alternatives as well as facts about coffee and caffeine intake. The group also collectively solves word puzzles and other brainteasers.

It’s always about keeping it fresh and fun.

“We might have a theme day, or a day where we show off our socks,” laughs Finley. “You really shouldn’t wear boring white socks to this class,” she jokes. During the World Series, the Chicago Cubs fans wore their brightest team socks and serenaded their classmates with “Go Cubs Go.” 

The class spends the last 10 minutes sharing the latest developments in their lives, giving each other encouragement, prayers and well wishes.

The women regularly invite guest speakers to class, including local experts such as physical therapists, pharmacists, a massage therapist, and a reflexologist to educate them about the latest in health and wellness.

“Since most of us have some sort of health-related ailment, this class is an important source of support,” says Finley. “There are women in here with fibromyalgia, diabetes, heart disease, sciatic nerve pain, back troubles, and knee and hip replacements. So, we use the class as an opportunity to teach other, for example, about what type of exercises you might be doing in physical therapy or the most effective ways to prevent back pain.”

Jaclyn Bormann, a physical therapist at Central Community Hospital, is a frequent guest speaker.

“The class actively helps my patients stay on course with exercise, strength and balance, plus provides them with information on all kinds of issues, including incontinence, adaptive devices, and how to get off the floor in case of a fall, just to name a few,” says Bormann. “All of this information is incorporated into the programming, which adds to its effectiveness. They have created a safe environment for any level of participant. I encourage my patients to try the class for the physical aspect of it, but also for the social camaraderie.”

While getting fit together, the women also connect on an emotional level. They have comforted each other through the deaths of spouses and loved ones. When one of the class members had breast cancer, the women took turns driving her 60 miles to her chemotherapy treatments. When she passed away, they mourned together.

They made care packages for troops overseas, have foreign exchanges students living in the area speak to the class, and participate in community activities like the St. Patrick’s Day parade together. When the granddaughter of long-time member Ericka Moyna was in Elkader following her participation in the Olympic games, arrangements were made for her to talk to the class.

“We also have the meal site involved, going to lunch there twice a month to support their efforts, and to celebrate any birthdays,” says Finley.

The Fit & Flex women agree that when it comes to small towns, the perception is that everyone knows each other. However, that’s not necessarily true.

“I didn’t really know most of these women before meeting them in class,” says Finley. “Group fitness helps you get to know people you wouldn’t normally have a chance to meet. Plus, when you work out regularly with someone, you get to know them on a whole new level. And of course, it gets you up and off the couch, beyond the four walls of your home.

Article reprinted courtesy of Blue magazine, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Register editor Pam Reinig contributed to this article.


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