Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series on Places to Get Fit in Schuylkill County.
T.The Schuylkill Racquet Family Sports and Fitness Center is the most unusually decorated gym I have ever been to.
An animal head and a colorless neon Yuengling sign are posted on wood-paneled walls in the lobby. The training equipment includes an arcade game “Arctic Thunder” and a wood-paneled claw machine that is filled with stuffed animals.
Renee Delong, who has owned the Orwigsburg business since 1986, informed me that it was founded in 1975 as a tennis club. The sign of the large barn-shaped building still says “TENNIS RACQUETBALL COCKTAIL LOUNGE”. When Delong became the owner, she turned the building into a sports and fitness center for families.
“Physical activity and exercise are important for everyone,” said Delong. “It’s important for children, teenagers, adults of all ages.”
Because of this, the fitness center has been running exercise classes for seniors for so long that Delong can’t remember when they started. The class was once called “50 and Fabulous” but is now called “SilverSneakers”.
In a dimly lit gym, a dozen of the instructors Amy Farr dubbed “Schuylkill County’s Super Seniors” train the oldies – wait, not the oldies, Farr said, the classics. The room is lined with mirrors that create the illusion of an endless row of pink sweaters and flannel shirts that move to Chantilly Lace and are forgotten.
“OK, Mambo, right,” said Farr. “Mambo left. Cha Cha Cha. Everyone got the high grade! “
“Ooh!” Shouted the “Silver and Fit Generation,” another nickname Farr has for them.
“They become your fitness family,” she said. “Before the pandemic, we did a potluck once a month and celebrated their birthdays.”
Farr continued to have classes online during the pandemic. When the gyms reopened, the Silver Sneakers reopening was the most-attended class in the gym’s history – although only 21 could be in the classroom due to social distancing requirements.
“My mother is on dialysis and I didn’t know if I wanted to come back,” said Farr, “but I was confident in my boss.”
Farr has been teaching the senior class for 30 years and has taught generations of older people, including Phil Orwig, who also happens to be the great-great-grandson of Orwigsburg founder Peter Orwig.
“It’s physically and mentally beneficial for me because I live alone,” said Orwig, 88, who clasped a purple chair with blue-veined hands in latex gloves. “And I come here and there is a nice group of people, we talk. I am alone 75 percent of my life. “
Orwig attends class with his almost 70-year-old friend.
“And this is where they train together in their 50s,” joked Farr.
The two men were drafted into the army and met for the first time on March 3, 1953 on a bus to the Hazleton Induction Center. They were shipped to Germany and separated, but on their return they spent 20 years together in the Army Reserves and have been friends ever since. Since Orwig came to the fitness center in 2018 to treat his AFib, he has made a new friend in Farr.
“She is one of the nicest ladies you will ever meet,” he said. “I don’t care where you go. She treats everyone in the class equally; We are a family. She is the nicest woman there is. “
If any of her students are sick, they will call and check them out.
Farr, who said she and Orwig were “best friends,” remains humble.
“Phil, I already have your money!” she joked.
Although it caters to the elderly, all ages and skill levels are welcome in her class. Farr said the class has a “covenant”: do what makes you comfortable, even if you are the only one doing it.
For more information on other courses at the Schuylkill Racquet Family sports and fitness center, please visit www.familyfitnesscenter.org.