MANHATTAN, Kan. – Don’t let Marge Neely’s small stature -- just 5 feet early in the morning and after a good stretch – or age fool you.
At 92, when many of her contemporaries have slowed down, she’s recruiting participants for Walk Kansas, said Sharolyn Jackson, state coordinator for the annual K-State Research and Extension fitness challenge.
The eight-week statewide fitness effort encourages teams of six to compile miles (or 15-minutes of moderate to vigorous activity equivalent to walking a mile) to cover the 423-miles from Kansas’ east to west borders.
This year, Marge has recruited 10 teams of six (60 people), Jackson said.
Neely, who will serve as captain for two of the teams she recruited, credits much of her energy and enthusiasm for life to an active lifestyle.
She grew up in rural Kansas, and at the age of five, convinced her parents to teach her how to milk a cow. She soon landed a regular assignment, and at the age of seven, began helping her father with small jobs in the fields.
Neely enlisted in the Marines during World War II, and was assigned to a communications unit, and after the war, thrived on her education at Kansas State.
She met and married a farmer, fulfilled the roles of a farm wife and partner, raised a family of six children, has been blessed with 16 grandchildren, taught school for 22 years, and earned the rank of Master Gardener, but she isn’t ready to hang it up yet.
“It’s never too late,” said Neely, who is a 10-year veteran of Walk Kansas and an enthusiastic booster for the health initiative.
She has scoliosis, (an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine), which has helped her learn to appreciate the therapeutic value of regular exercise. She can speak from experience, and said that’s why she makes an effort to recruit Walk Kansas participants in assisted living residences and nursing homes.
“We’ve got to keep moving; it makes everything easier,” said Neely, who touts the benefits of stretching first (her advice, try to pull your toes to your nose), and what she calls “walking in bed.”
Simulated walking exercises the feet, legs, knees and hips; making circles with your feet also can relieve numbness in the feet and ease restless leg syndrome, she said.
Neely does both, walks on a treadmill and uses New Step equipment, and advocates getting up to move around for every hour of sitting.
“Marge’s passion for physical activity is encouraging,” said Tara Solomon, K-State Research and Extension agent in Neosho County in the Southwind Extension District.
“She is modest, but definitely has a zest for life. She is a leader and, also an energetic example for health-promoting physical fitness,” Solomon said.
With 3,083 teams of six (18,500 people) enrolled in Walk Kansas’ 2012 program, Neely is thought to be the oldest captain, Jackson said.
More information about K-State Research and Extension’s Walk Kansas fitness challenge is available at K-State Research and Extension offices throughout the state and online.
The team concept has proved popular with families, friends and co-workers, is being integrated into workplace wellness efforts, and this year, in Seward County, expanded and introduced to Liberal High School Students as part of a push for a balanced lifestyle.
Walk Kansas for Kids is available in two family-friendly age-appropriate levels (first through third, and fourth through sixth grades), and becoming more popular with families, including one with a two-year-old, who is thought to be the youngest participant this year.