Tag Archives: Active Living

The Queen of Omaha Ice

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and provided

The ice rink is smooth like glass. A young woman glides across the surface, breaking it in with her skates’ sharp blades. Across the rink, her coach watches closely, analyzing
each move. 

Barbara Foster has been working at the Tim Moylan Tranquility Iceplex as a coach since it first opened in November 1995. Throughout her extensive career, she has coached students as young as 2 and as old as 82.

Foster was born and raised in the small mining community of Noranda, in Canada’s Quebec province. She attributes her perfectionist tendencies to her no-nonsense upbringing. 

Named after Barbara Ann Scott—a Canadian Olympic gold medalist and world champion in figure skating—there was little doubt that she would become comfortable at the rink.

Her father put her on the ice for the first time when she was only 2 years old, during the intermission of a local hockey game. Her first pair of skates were actually hockey skates. 

Dad was a high school principal and also refereed games in his spare time. He laced up her tiny skates, and she was a natural on the ice from the very beginning. Foster’s parents knew then that she would live up to her namesake. 

As a young student of figure skating, she trained with coaches in the summer, but was left to practice on her own during the brutal Canadian winters. She trained at a recreational rink, where she would come in through the back door and practice before school every morning.

Photo provided. Foster coaching a senior student.

When she was 14, she began training with Hans Gerschwiler, a World Figure Skating Champion and silver medalist at the 1948 Winter Olympics. When Gerschwiler moved to the United States in 1960, he asked Foster’s parents for permission to take her with him to continue her training. 

“He was an incredible skater for a long time,” Foster says. 

Foster trained with Gerschwiler in New Jersey and eventually became a teacher for his young students. While there, she developed a passion for coaching.

“The best part about teaching is the relationships,” Foster says with a smile. “There is no better job, and I get a lot of satisfaction from feeling that I’ve impacted my students.”

Since her days in New Jersey, she has coached all around the Midwest, Australia, and New Zealand. A perfectionist by nature, she stood out from other coaches and pushed her students to achieve the goals they placed for themselves. She eventually settled down in Omaha with husband Larry Foster, who retired from his job as the director of Council Bluffs Parks in August.

As a 74-year-old retired coach, she still enjoys teaching students of all ages, but she says she does not miss the rigorous seven-day training schedule she once lived by. 

In the past five years, she has undergone numerous procedures, including two back surgeries, total knee replacement, and treatment for a torn rotator cuff in her shoulder. But she refuses to let these procedures discourage her.

After knee surgery this past February, she was in Boston to support two of her students who went to the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Nationals in April. After her first back surgery in 2013, she was lacing up her skates again after three weeks of recovery (instead of the three months that doctors had expected to be necessary). 

Photo provided. Foster and her coaching mentor.

While teaching has always been a passion of hers, there is one passion that surpasses all others: her family. As a grandmother of nine, she is often on the road to visit her grandchildren, who are scattered across the country from Jacksonville, Florida, to  Olathe, Kansas, to Takoma Park, Maryland. 

Each summer, the grandchildren make a trek to Nebraska for one of their favorite annual events: “Camp Nana.” Foster started Camp Nana when the oldest grandchildren were toddlers. The parents drop off the grandkids for two weeks of fun-filled activities and bonding time.

“I never had an opportunity to be connected to my cousins,” Foster says. “I just really wanted to make sure that I could provide that opportunity for my grandkids.”

For the last 23 years, Foster has worked with youth and adult hockey players, and she even worked with the University of Nebraska-Omaha men’s hockey team to help correct players’ skating technique. 

“Figure skaters have techniques that even hockey coaches don’t quite understand,” Foster says. “It really helps if you can break it down and help them get the most out of their legs while their body is still handling a puck.”

Although she considers herself retired, she does still instruct a few students (teaching two days a week instead of seven). Even aside from her teaching, Foster says she would be at Tranquility Iceplex at some point every day doing a variety of jobs and chores that need to be completed: mounting figure skate blades, selling equipment at the rink’s pro shop, and fitting customers with new skates.

“It’s allowed me to have a lot of diversity,” Foster says. “So even at this age, where I’m not actively teaching, I have lots of other interests that keep me involved with the rink and the people in it, which is the fun part.”

Foster says she is never bored because of all the activities she has taken on. She works at the rink, teaches lessons, spends time with friends and does Pilates, which helps align her spine and strengthens her back.

“I am really looking forward to skating again,” says Foster, who gets on the ice with her students for instruction but is not attempting toe jumps, double axels, or triple lutzes. “After my knee replacement, I’m struggling to be able to demonstrate the power that correct technique can generate. I think that as everything settles down, I would like to get myself feeling really comfortable again on the ice.”

Foster is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. She holds students to her own high standard of excellence, too. They shouldn’t expect coddling or ego-stroking. If that’s what a student wants, then Foster says, “you’re with the wrong coach.” 


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Like a Kid Again

September 9, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Don Byers’ teammates on the Bellevue University golf team saw the notion of shooting your age—one of the rarest feats in the sport—as a canard of the wildest conceit.

But the athlete who played for one semester with the Bruins came within a mere stroke of doing just that last year during a golf vacation in Arizona.

That’s because Byers, who is 61 (and shot a 62 on a Par 62 course that day in the desert), had a four-decade advantage over most of his collegiate competitors.

This most unlikely of feel-good sports stories began with a chance meeting on the first tee of his home course, Champions Run, when he was introduced to Rob Brown, the school’s head golf coach and a friend of one of Byers’ golfing buddies. 

There was nothing senescent about Byers’ swing that day. He was crushing it—with drives of nearly 300 yards and playing well under par.

Brown came to learn that Byers was a former pitcher who had blown out his arm before ever taking the mound for the University of Nebraska-Omaha baseball team back when Gerald R. Ford was in the White House. The coach playfully inquired as to whether Byers had any remaining college athletics eligibility.

But Brown, it turned out, wasn’t joking, and he discovered that Byers could play for Bellevue University because the Bruins play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. While the NCAA restricts student-athletes to playing within five years of graduating from high school, there is no such limit in the NAIA. So the longtime insurance agent, who lives in Elkhorn with his wife, Debra, enrolled at the university with an undeclared major and green goals.

Byers encountered several challenges in joining a team of students who could be his grandkids, the first being that he was no longer the lean, lanky, 6-foot-4-inch fire-baller of his youth. 

When uniforms were issued, the father of three and grandfather of four explained, “Coach handed me a pair of 38-inch-waist pants, the largest size they come, and I just kind of stared at them. I hadn’t worn a 38 in, well, quite a while.”

The team’s winter training regimen incorporates CrossFit, and Byers’ return to college athletics led to him shedding 50 pounds the hard way.

“The whole floor around me was soaked at the end of our first workout,” he says, “but the other guys hadn’t even begun to break a sweat.” 

And it wasn’t the end of the workout, one of his teammates explained. “That was just the warm-up!” Byers recalls, “I could barely walk the next day.”

As he came back into fighting weight—and shape— he looked forward to contributing on the course. 

He played in three rounds in the spring 2018 semester: shooting 21 strokes over par in two rounds at the March 30-31 TPC Deere Run Invitational in Silvis, Illinois, then finishing seven strokes over par at the April 17 Midland University Spring Invitational.

Records on the subject are sketchy, but Byers is among the oldest players in any sport in the history of college athletics, and his back-to-school story was featured in Sports Illustrated, the Golf Channel, Golf Digest, ESPN’s website, and USA Today.

Although he only pursued collegiate golf for five months, Byers insists his quest was anything
but quixotic.

“I’ve always been competitive,” Byers says, “and this [was] no lark. My goal was to make the team and then make the starting five” on the squad of seven golfers. “I was treated like everyone else. I earned my place.”


Visit bubruins.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Volunteer Advice from a Pro

September 20, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Did you watch more than an hour of the Weather Channel today? Do you put less than 25 miles on your car in any given week? Do you approach crossword puzzles with such confidence—and frequency—that you dare to solve them in ink?

There’s no reason that senior living can’t be active living. And there’s no better solution to “stir crazy” than to get out there and volunteer.

Ann Hosford is a seasoned volunteer who serves on the board of the Omaha Parks Foundation. She was a founding member of the Girls Club (now Girls Inc.) and has previously served on the boards of Fontenelle Forest and Community Alliance, among others. We checked in with Hosford for her Top Five tips on how to live a richer and more rewarding life through volunteering.

Keep it Local

Volunteering can begin at your front door. “Join your neighborhood association,” says Hosford, previously the multi-term president of the Metcalfe-Harrison Neighborhood Association. “That’s a great and easy place to start. What better way to build stronger communities than with your neighbors?”

Matchmaking

There’s a nonprofit out there that speaks to almost any interest. The key is to find something that fits your passions and personality, says Hosford. “Are you, for example, really into gardening, but you live in an apartment? There’s plenty of volunteer opportunities for people who think green,” or any other color.

Go Small

Don’t overlook new or smallish nonprofits. “I made perhaps some of my most impactful contributions,” Hosford says, “when I served on the board of the [smallish nonprofit] Omaha Hearing School. Smaller groups need just about everything in terms of support. Your work there in any role you play can really make a difference.”

A Family Affair

“I started volunteering when I was young and my mother was volunteering,” Hosford says. Include your children and grandkids in the great tradition of helping others. “It’s great modeling behavior. And volunteers always have such great stories to tell.” Those stories are even better when such shared experiences serve to add deeper and more meaningful levels of family connectedness.

Two’s Company

Are you a little shy? Can new people, places, and experiences be a little intimidating? “Use the buddy system,” Hosford advises. “Volunteer with a friend. You’ll
have a great time!”

Act Today!

Need more ideas to stir your imagination? The United Way of the Midlands maintains an online directory with scores of volunteer opportunities. Check out the “Volunteer” tab at unitedwaymidlands.org.

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Frank Fong

October 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I apologize for not bringing you something to drink,” Frank Fong says with the utmost graciousness. Never mind that he’s sitting on a park bench in a rose garden, decidedly far away from any beverage station.

A compact man with a long, gray ponytail and tanned skin, Fong exudes a sense of quiet power. An expatriate from Hong Kong, he’s cagey about how long he’s lived in Omaha, as well as how old he is. “I’ve lived here for more than 20 years,” he says. “Let’s leave it at that. And for my age, you can put down ancient.”

He will tell you how many years he’s been practicing tai chi: 45; and how many years he’s been teaching it: about 30. He teaches pretty much everywhere—at University of Nebraska-Omaha as a faculty member, at the Om Center, in private classes, and at Universal College of 
Healing Arts.

In whatever he teaches, tai chi, yoga, or music, Fong tries to expose his students to what he calls the art of living well. “It’s a whole-view approach as to how to live one’s life,” he says. “It’s getting to know the laws of nature that we all have to abide by. If you go with that flow, usually we’ll have an 
easier time.”

What laws are those?

How much better your body behaves when you give it enough rest. How much healthier you are when you give your mind time to be calm. How much better your mind and body perform when you feed both of 
them correctly.

“We all come with two things that nobody can take away from us,” Fong says. “One is our mind and the other is our body. We all own those two things.” The current definition of “to own,” he suggests, means to know it, to control all aspects of it.

For example, knowing your body closely can head off illness. “Everybody gets the common cold,” Fong says. “Chills, nose starts to run…that’s too late to do anything about it. There are symptoms that come sooner and are less obvious. It’s an awareness you have to learn about yourself. It’s like not feeling anything until someone punches you versus when someone taps you lightly on the shoulder.”

Staying well and living well for Fong mean engaging daily in each of his three main disciplines: tai chi, yoga, and music. This may seem like a lot of activity to the casual observer, but they all provide what he refers to as active resting. Tai chi slows down physical movement, allowing the mind to slow down as well and gain clarity. “The mind habit is to not want to stay simple. It does not like to be still.”

Meditation, he says, is any kind of technique used to slow down the mind. “Instead of 10,000 things, you give it one thing,” he says, “so that it will stay with that one thing.” Focusing on the smoothness of the flow of tai chi is one such method, but Fong finds rest in the flow of many art forms. Painting, calligraphy, cooking…and then there’s music.

A musician and composer, Fong plays with his band, Rhythm Collective, every Thursday at The Hive at 19th and St. Mary’s. The island flavor of Rhythm Collective differs sharply from Fong’s other group, The New Humans, whose sound ranges from blues to country to jazz. He plays guitar, bass, keyboard, and percussion, and sings as well.

For Fong, making good music is similar to perfecting the art of tai chi. “If you’re too much into the technicality of it, you can lose the musicality of it,” he says. “That’s the flow. Same thing with tai chi. You can say I’m going to do this posture in very exact geometry. But where is the energy flow that you can express through that art form? You can be technically perfect, but that’s only one half of the equation.”

Frank and Tina relax in their Dundee home with their two sons.

Frank and Tina relax in their Dundee home with their two sons.

He and his partner, Tina Bloomquist-Korth, who is also a music instructor, have launched a business in their home this fall called Love ‘n’ Heart Music Together. “It’s a style of music class for families. It’s parents with their kids under six,” Fong explains. The new business will afford the couple a schedule that enables one of them to always be available to care for their two sons, Gregory, 3 and a half, and Samuel, 1. “I want to grow up with them,” Fong says with a laugh, “because I’m still growing up.”

Zumba Instructor Iris Moreano

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Iris Moreano just can’t seem to sit still. The 66-year-old Zumba instructor keeps her days filled to the brim with such activities as exercising, gardening, and teaching. And she has no intention of slowing down any time soon.

Moreano moved to Omaha nine years ago with her husband shortly after he was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Living in a new town coupled with the new role of caretaker left her feeling a bit stressed. Not one to sit around and wallow in despair, she joined a gym to meet new people and relieve pressure. When the gym began offering Zumba classes, a total-body workout combining Latin and international rhythms with dance moves, Moreano signed up.

“I’m originally from Puerto Rico, so I grew up with that type of music: salsa, merengue, and cumbia,” she says. “It was a lot of fun, and I felt good afterwards.”

In 2007, Moreano became licensed to teach Zumba. While she currently teaches regular classes at Motion41 Dance studio at 125th and West Center streets, she also teaches at Curves in Elkhorn and at Fullerton Elementary School. All in all, Moreano teaches Zumba three to five days per week and substitutes when needed. But she has been known to teach six days per week with five classes each day.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to retire,” she says. “My age is just a number. It’s all about how you feel and live. Zumba is good for that because it’s like a party. I get e-mails from students saying that they can’t wait for the next class. So it feels good to help other people relieve their stress like I do mine.”

Moreano is also a full-time English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teacher assistant at Fullerton Elementary, a position she finds “very rewarding.” In her spare time, she enjoys reading and tending to her garden. As a walking (and dancing) testament to the benefits of an active lifestyle, Moreano credits her clean bill of health to her on-the-go schedule. As for other Omaha seniors looking to become more active, Moreano has some advice: “Keep your mind busy but don’t take things too hard,” she says. “Try to stay positive. Try to exercise, whether it’s just walking. Do it for you. You’ve got to keep healthy and take care of yourself before you can help anyone else.”

Sharon Ongert, 66

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

World traveler. free spirit. Social butterfly. All these terms aptly describe Sharon Ongert.

The native Omahan has always been an affable go-getter and shows no signs of slowing down as she hits her mid-60s. “I like to follow the advice, ‘Don’t buy things, buy memories,” Ongert confides one morning over drinks at Paradise Bakery.

Ongert in Egypt. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert at the Egyptian Pyramids, 2010. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert loves to travel. “When I was first married, my husband and I spent a year living in Europe,” she shares. “We visited 16 countries and 168 cities throughout western Europe and northern Africa. I guess that’s how it started.”

Once her two kids were born, the family continued to take trips to the Caribbean, Mexico, skiing… “Later, I began traveling with my mom to England, Australia, and New Zealand. My dad didn’t care much for travel, so he paid for the trips, and I’d go with her…it was the perfect situation.”

Ongert in... Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert on the chariot tracks in Pompeii, Italy, 2012. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Now single, Ongert continues to travel the globe, often with new friends made on past journeys (of which she has many). Egypt and Peru were recent vacation destinations. “Last year, I took two back-to-back Mediterranean cruises, which took us to Turkey, Croatia, Malta, Sicily, Italy…I keep a travel journal every trip I make and log in every day I’m gone so I can keep track of everything I do.” This year, she’ll put more stamps in her passport with trips to Russia and Scandinavia on the agenda.

In addition to travel, Ongert loves to work…yes, work. She has three jobs. She spends one or two days a week at both Ann Taylor Loft (Village Pointe) and Pottery Barn Kids (Regency Court), which she says has allowed her to make some wonderful friendships with co-workers of all different ages. She loves working with customers as well, adding, “I love meeting all the new moms and grandmas.” The social aspect of working retail is a major plus for Ongert, who once worked as the social director for a Miami-based cruise ship.

Ongert with a friend in Machu Picchu. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert with friend Linda in Machu Picchu, Peru, 2011. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert also officiates tennis matches for a dozen different tennis organizations. “My kids both played competitive tennis, and so I followed it for a long time,” Ongert recalls. “When my youngest graduated, I decided I’d train as an umpire so I could continue in the sport. I’m an independent contractor, essentially, and have chaired matches for the Big 10, Big 12, Omaha Tennis Association, high schools…I’ve watched so much good tennis this way. I’ve always got the best seat in the house!”

To keep up with this busy schedule, Ongert makes it a point to stay fit, working out daily at Lakeside Wellness Center, lifting weights and walking on the treadmill. She’s also a snowbird, traveling to Phoenix every March to spend a month hiking, playing tennis, and practicing her new favorite sport, pickleball.

Ongert at the Colosseum. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, 2012. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

“It’s basically tennis on a much smaller court using a wiffle ball. It’s best for those who can’t cover the ground of a tennis court. It’s a lot of fun!”

That’s Ongert, always up for a new adventure.

Dr. Mike Sitorius

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As a family physician for 33 years, Dr. Mike Sitorius spends time stressing the importance of staying physically active to his patients. And while the doctor, 61, logs 60+ hours a week on the job, as well as serves a leadership role at UNMC, he still finds time to practice what he preaches. Some might say he “walks the walk.” Literally.

“I played a lot of basketball up until about my mid-50s when arthritis in my knees forced me to give it up,” Dr. Sitorius says. “Then I took up walking. I prefer to walk at work and try to get in 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day. I used to use a pedometer, but nowadays I have a pretty good gauge without one.”

That may seem like a lot of steps, but Dr. Sitorius says climbing the stairs whenever possible, taking “the long way” to meetings, and walking the six blocks between buildings on the UNMC campus several times daily allow him to rack up steps pretty quickly.

“It’s good physical activity, but it’s the mental part, too…Walking allows me good thinking time,” he adds. He also enjoys walking with his wife, Marilyn, a radiologist, in their Omaha neighborhood two or three times a week when the weather allows. “It’s a great time for us catch up on things with one another.”20130327_bs_9232_Web

Dr. Sitorius says he stretches and does balancing exercises regularly as well. “No tools or equipment needed…just my body.”

Mental exercise is as important as physical exercise, especially for the aging body, he declares. “Mental activity creates a sense of well-being and a better perception of one’s physical health. I encourage everyone to read—not just a novel but anything—or do something mentally stimulating…Learn something new. Right now, I’m trying to learn all of the new technology out there, one small bit at a time.”

One should not underestimate the importance of socializing to one’s health either, Dr. Sitorius says. “It’s easy to become disconnected to other groups, especially with all the technology today. Personal interaction is important. I love everything sports, and I always found time to socialize following my children’s high school and college sport teams (and with five children, that’s a lot of games!) and I’m a huge Husker fan—not just football but all [university] sports.”

He also stays connected, both personally and professionally, with his peers, serving on the Nebraska Advisory Commission for Rural Health and the Bellevue Medical Center Board.

Think balancing it all is tough with the doctor’s busy schedule? “My dad (who was a rural general practicioner) used to work 110-120 hours a week. He would have no sympathy for my schedule,” he says with a chuckle.

Pam Stanek

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Boundless energy has always been part of my makeup,” says Pam Stanek, co-owner of Omaha’s The Interior Design Firm, “I’m happiest when I’m busy.”

As the oldest of six girls, Stanek was bound to attain the leadership skills needed to succeed in the ever-creative and competitive world of interior design. “Entrepreneurship is evident in my family,” Stanek explains. “My family-owned businesses, my husband is a retired business owner, and four of my children own businesses.” This would explain her talent as an entrepreneur and the success of The Interior Design Firm, which she became part-owner of over 30 years ago with now-retired Charlotte Dann. Stanek is also an active member of the ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) Nebraska-Iowa Chapter, is on the board for UMB Bank, and supports many charitable organizations.

01 Febuary 2013- Pam Stanek is photographed for Omaha Magazine.

However, it’s never ‘all work and no play’ for Stanek. She enjoys golf, travel, and spending time with her family at her lake house in Fremont during the summers. Health is also an important aspect of her life, as she says, “I attempt to keep healthy by walking, exercising, and doing light weights several times a week. I do stretching exercises every day, which I feel is necessary as one ages.”

Aside from her business and hobbies, Stanek prides herself on being the matriarch of her family. She has five children and 14 grandchildren with husband Ed, and says, “I feel I have accomplished many things, the greatest being my family. Ed and I watched our children grow into amazing people.” Stanek adds, “It’s great to be in our 60s and have the opportunity to enjoy our family and friends.”

Steve Hipple, 64

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

At 64, Steve Hipple defies his age both in his youthful appearance and adventure-loving spirit. Hipple works out five days a week: 30 minutes of weight lifting followed by 30 minutes of aerobics. He also attends hot yoga class twice a week, sharing, “I find that yoga increases my strength, flexibility, and mobility. It also eases tension and tightness, increases my energy, and encourages an overall positive and
enlightened attitude.”

Hipple has a strong interest in wine and food and maintains a large cellar of the world’s finest wines. As chairman of the Festival and Events Committee for the International Wine & Food Society, he organizes wine festivals and cruises for members all around the world. Gourmet dining is one of his many interests. “I enjoy exotic foods matched perfectly with just the right wine.”

The empty-nester with two children says, “My wife, Patti, and I love adventure traveling, especially by motorcycle. We have explored many parts of the world including France and Spain, and have traveled from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the tip of South America. We crashed three times, outran robbers in Panama, and suffered extortion at the hands of Mexican police. In Venezuela, we swam at the bottom the tallest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls, slept everywhere from five-star hotels to no-star hotels, and ate everything from Argentinean beef to guinea pig.”

Seeing the world from the seat of a motorcycle is an exhilarating experience, Hipple shared. “You can feel Mother Nature in all her guises: rain with slippery, muddy roads in the Amazon jungle…snow, ice, and sleet in Patagonia…and fierce winds and altitude sickness in the Andes Mountains of Peru.” Sight-seeing from a sedan is not for him. “Traveling by auto is like sitting in your 72-degree living room watching the Travel Channel in hi-definition.”

Hipple’s advice for living a healthy, active, long life: “Find what you like and do it. Enjoy life by staying fit, be sociable, and follow your passions.”