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What's Age Got to Do With It? Sixtyfive Plus, Fall/Winter 2009

Three years ago, at the age of 77, newlywed Annie Garnero-Richerts was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and was well on her way to being wheelchair bound. Suddenly, her thrice weekly walks came to a halt.

"[The arthritis] was so strong that I really couldn't get up out of the chair without incredible pain. So they put me on medication to keep my body from attacking itself...."

Distraught about seeing their mother "stuck in a chair," Annie's children gave her a three-month trial with a personal trainer. Determined to regain her strength, Annie began a weight training program and never looked back.

Now 80, Annie works out at Garden Health and Fitness in Monterey under the guidance of her trainer, sometimes leg-pressing up to 80 pounds.

"It took a while to get to where you're not aching all the time because you're pushing your muscles when they're not used to it," she says. "There are times where I squeak here and squawk there, and my trainer works around it. But I certainly give it all I've got."

Though she's down to a mile and a half for her walks, she continues to use machines and free weights to strengthen her core muscles.

"Core strength is the name of the game," Annie says. "Otherwise I'd be debilitated without all this good-old-fashioned weight training."

While travel is the only diversion that pulls Annie away from her exercise routine, it comes easier now that she has increased physical agility.

"I kept it up," she says of her strengthening program, "because I noticed a remarkable difference.... There are a lot of small-time things that are profoundly different, like getting up off the floor. ... Developing strength has given me a whole new life. I just feel so much younger, and I'm able to do so much more."

Annie, married in 2006 to Robert Richerts, cherishes her status as a newlywed. "Age is just a number," she says, "I really feel that you can work around that number. And it's a matter of incredible discipline because, as you get older, you don't want to bother. But I'm a testimony to making that effort because I didn't like the [idea] of being confined to a chair."

But Annie recognizes her limitations. "My brain thinks that it's in its twenties," she says, chuckling. "But my body says, 'get over it, you fool!'"

A former fashion consultant at elan in Pebble Beach, Annie is happiest now spending her time as a potter and a guide at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

"I couldn't have survived with seven children if I didn't have a tremendous amount of energy. ... They've got to have a nap, and I'm still running circles around them. ... If you think old, you end up acting old."

Life is good, once again, for Annie.

"I think I turned the [arthritis] around .... I was never confined to a wheelchair, but if I hadn't [taken] the medication with the exercise, that's where I was headed. ... I still can't leap buildings in a single bound," she says, laughing.

"I mean, be realistic!"