Profiles of active aging

DEFEATING AGE: Cory Hartbarger, at age 90, says working out and living a healthy lifestyle have helped him excel at athletics and overcome health problems. Photo courtesy of Cory Hartbarger

Athlete defies age

For 90-year-old track and field athlete Cory Hartbarger, the greatest competitor he has defeated in sports is age.

“I’ve had a lot of health concerns [heart surgery, diabetes, arthritis] and have been very fortunate to stay alive this long, but I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t continue to work out and live a healthy lifestyle,” says Hartbarger.

“My main goal has always been to stay alive for as long as I can,” the Asheville resident says.

Hartbarger’s health concerns have motivated him to stay healthy and active.  His doctor encouraged him to have a regular exercise routine as well as follow a strict diet, due to his diabetic condition. Sports turned out to be the perfect strength builder and age defier.

After returning from World War II at age 18, Hartbarger discovered he had a penchant for athletics: He competed in track and field events, including shot put, discus and javelin. He played in the Philadelphia Athletics’ baseball farm system in North Carolina in 1949.

More than six decades later, the 90-year-old will soon compete with more than 10,000 adults over the age of 50 in Birmingham, Ala., in the 2017 National Senior Games.

“I think it’s wonderful to be able to participate in the National Senior Games, as it promotes healthy living,” says Hartbarger.

He was selected as a 2017 Humana Game Changer — an athlete who represents every age and ability and provides encouragement, motivation and inspiration for all seniors to stay healthy.

“It’s an absolute honor,” he says.

The U.S. Track and Field Association recognized Hartbarger as an All-American in 2009, 2011 and 2013. He recently accepted an invitation to return to his alma mater, Northern Michigan University, to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Having finished in the top eight at the National Senior Games in the past, he hopes to medal again — but he finds the camaraderie with his fellow competitors equally rewarding.

Even the city of Asheville itself contributes to Hartbarger’s well-being, he adds.

“Asheville is a beautiful city that has plenty to offer, from the ballgames, opera and downtown area. I enjoy taking a mile-and-half-long walk through Asheville every day.”

Hartbarger reveals one of the greatest joys of competing is seeing his fellow competitors at meets and being able to form those relationships while striving to stay healthy.

“It’s incredible to think that after everything I’ve experienced in my life from World War II to health concerns, that I’m still alive and kicking. I hope to have a few more years left in this wonderful life of mine.”


Martial arts without the pain

VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE: Liz Ridley’s life has a lot of spice, as she teaches a variety of exercise classes. But tai chi has been the biggest influence in her life in staying active and feeling young. Photo by Emily Nichols

Liz Ridley is proof that variety is the spice of life.

At 68, the tai chi instructor is more energetic than ever. She gets up no later than 7 a.m. each morning, takes her dog Dixie for a walk and then dives into her passions. Ridley teaches 15 classes a week (tai chi, senior chair and water exercise), plays the ukulele, hikes, dances, participates in yoga and Feldenkrais (an exercise therapy that focuses on the connections between the brain and the body), and enjoys movies, plays and art galleries.

“There are so many wonderful opportunities for staying active [in Asheville],” says Ridley, who even listens to audiobooks in her car.

A city resident for 25 years, Ridley has worked in myriad professions — but tai chi has proved to be the biggest influence in her life when it comes to staying active and feeling young.

“Physically, tai chi is great for health and balance,” she says. “It helps with stress, blood pressure, sleep.”

An exercise leader for 25 years (aerobics, bench stepping and weightlifting), she reached a point where she desired more depth to her workout.

“Tai chi gave a focus to my life and exercise that I didn’t have before,” she says.

A class taught by Mark Small of the Mountain Dragon School in Asheville hooked her on tai chi, which she calls “martial arts without the pain!” She still goes to one class a week with Small and now co-sponsors World Tai Chi Day with local martial arts guru Larry Cammarata. (World Tai Chi Day is held the last Saturday in April and is celebrated in 80 countries.)

Ridley also instructs senior chair exercise and water exercise, with most of her students in their 80s or older.

“From them, I learn … that each day is precious and to make the most of life,” says Ridley.

She says her positive outlook and exercise have been the keys to remaining independent.

“I don’t think of myself as old, and I hope that 20 years from now I’ll be able to say the same thing,” says Ridley. “When I look around, the people who are active are the ones who have a smile on their faces.  I want to be one of those!”

She has produced two senior exercise DVDs — Hulacize and Countrycize — that will available for sale soon. Workshops with martial arts masters have given her a new lease on life.

“Tai chi is practice, practice, practice until the end — and I kind of feel that’s what life’s about. Practice until the end.”

She recently stepped out of her comfort zone and entered a martial arts tournament where she won first- and second-place medals.

“Things are just great in my life right now,” she says, “I can’t remember ever being happier.”

Pain became a game changer

Lillah Schwartz
PEACE OF THE PUZZLE: Lillah Schwartz began yoga to help heal an injury from a horse accident. It turned into a passion, which quickly became a career. Photo courtesy of Schwartz

For Lillah Schwartz, yoga is the missing “peace” of the puzzle when it comes to having a balanced and active life.

An encounter with pain led Schwartz to discover yoga, a passion that turned into a career.

“I had suffered from a horse accident and was looking for an effective path to healing,” she says.

In Boston, David Carmos, Schwartz’s first teacher, suggested she study yoga to benefit from its healing powers, mentally and physically.

“I was soon drawn to the work of B.K.S. Iyengar, an internationally renowned yogi whose techniques resonated with me,” says Schwartz. “The goals of the Iyengar method are long-lasting health, positive self-confidence and wholeness. I studied directly with B.K.S. and his lineage for 25 years and learned that certain movements could make a difference in my pain and improve my ability to move more freely and feel whole.”

Schwartz brought those teachings to Asheville through her studio, Lighten Up Yoga, which she opened after moving here in the ’70s with her husband. She was one of the few women business owners downtown.

“In Asheville, my goal to become a full-time teacher came full circle. My specialty evolved seamlessly — helping students overcome their own issues from back injuries and related aches and pains.”

Following a merger of her studio with One Center Yoga in 2013, Schwartz switched from studio owner to teacher team associate, instructing group classes as well as giving private lessons. She teaches workshops in Asheville and throughout the Southeast.

“Those who embrace yoga as a healing art and lifestyle need the kind of wisdom and experience I have to offer.”

Her workdays are divided into two categories: teaching and computer. The computer aspect revolves around updating and planning everything from social media and blog posts to bookkeeping as well as the website and event planning. Her multitalented makeup aids her in staying active.

She is one of the first certified yoga therapists with International Association of Yoga Therapists in Asheville and has produced several yoga DVDs that have boasted national distribution. Her most recent accomplishment is her 2016 book, Healing Our Backs With Yoga: An Essential Guide to Back Pain Relief. Schwartz says it gives the reader “reliable information and yoga pose sequences to help people understand and manage their back pain. It is a practice book that will contribute to a person’s health and well-being, with or without back pain.”

Schwartz’s book can be purchased on her website,, at One Center Yoga on 120 Coxe Ave., Malaprops Bookstore on Haywood Street and Nature’s Vitamins and Herbs on Biltmore Avenue.

Keep giving to keep living

COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Willie Mae Brown says working on causes strengthens her vitality. Photo courtesy of Brown

For 81-year-old Willie Mae Brown, the best way to keep living is to keep giving through action and not just words.

“If you keep moving, you won’t turn into a block of concrete,” says the community servant. “You’ll keep all your faculties, and that’s a blessing.”

The Oakhurst resident’s commitment to helping is well-known throughout the city. The 29-year veteran of Asheville’s Ball Glass plant now stays busy with a variety of events and family commitments. Her days begin early — around 6 a.m. — taking care of her niece, whose leg was recently amputated.

When asked about her life, Brown’s answer is humble.

“I don’t like to be recognized for anything I’ve done,” she says, finding the act itself the reward.

Throughout Brown’s life, community involvement has been a constant fixture and passion, validating her claim that giving back is the best way to continue moving forward. Last month, her contributions were honored by The Martin Luther King Association as part of the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism: Women of Color Leading Change event.

“I have been participating in various activities for almost as long as I can remember,” notes Brown.

These days, she works with Community Action Opportunities, a nonprofit organization that helps people and communities affected by poverty. She has helped others fight discrimination in all its forms, whether on the job or in daily life.

Brown has also worked with Asheville GreenWorks for the past 26 years. The organization — which went by the name Quality Forward until 2007 — cleans up the environment by removing trash along streets and sidewalks. “I believe in a clean community,” Brown says, adding that she used to organize cleanup events specifically for kids, an activity she says instilled in them the importance of taking care of the planet.

“This is your environment,” Brown told the children. “God is not making any more land, so we have to take care of what we have.”

Brown credits her work on causes close to her heart with strengthening her vitality. She is a member of the Mount Zion Missionary Church, where she serves as head of the Crisis Food Ministry as well as superintendent of Sunday school.

Remaining active in Asheville is easy, Brown says, because of the many activities the city provides. At one point, she was a member of a senior dance group that entertained in nursing homes around town.

“Regardless of where I go, it’s home to me,” says Brown. “And I love it.”

Asheville is not just a residence, she notes, but a positive contributor to her health.

When asked her secret for fighting the negative effects of aging, Brown responds, “Just living in general.” It’s a simple message that fits the ongoing commitment of this pillar of the community to pursuing a life of action and service.




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About Laurie Crosswell
I am a freelance writer for all subject areas as well as a film critic. Follow me @lauriecrosswell

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