By Marcello Iaia
The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia
Lead and follow: Susan Miner, top, leads her 9-year-old granddaughter, Sarah Myers, to demonstrate the dance turns that, after many years, have worn on her knee. Seven years ago, Miner was told her knee should be replaced. She refused, lost weight, and is now training for an indoor triathlon at the Guilderland YMCA.GUILDERLAND — Susan Miner took her 9-year-old granddaughter’s hand to demonstrate the turns of a folk dance in the busy YMCA last Friday night. At 65, she had just spent two hours in the pool and on the track, training for an indoor triathlon, for reasons as much for her as they are for others.
When she was around the same age as her granddaughter, Sarah Myers, Miner did international folk dances in the 1950s and called square dances broadcast on television. Though Miner has been physically active most of her life, as an adept swimmer and sailor, the March 10 triathlon is a new challenge. It consists of consecutive, 15-minute intervals swimming, on a stationary bike, and running on a treadmill.
The ages of the triathlon’s 70 participants ranged from 14 to 75 last year, said Jennifer Rittner-Paniccia, senior program director at the Guilderland YMCA. The three-year-old program of triathlon training classes involves a coach, who guides triathletes through skills and techniques, especially with swimming, which Rittner-Paniccia said is often the most challenging part. Awards based on distance are given for each gender overall, and for each activity.
“Our pastor is always telling us we should stretch ourselves,” said Miner, referring to Jay Francis of the Rock Road Chapel in Berne.
Verses of the Bible orient Miner’s motivation. She is awakened as well by stories of people her age, and wants to set an example for her husband, John, and her grandchildren.
The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia
Buoyed: The duo, Susan Miner and Sarah Myers, stand upright in the YMCA pool Friday after their warm-up aerobics, jumping up and down in the water. They later ran around the track in preparation for an indoor triathlon next month that will involve 15 minutes each of swimming, riding stationary bike, and running on a treadmill.“This is a lot more tiring than running,” said Myers, wearing orange goggles, after she and Miner swam a lap of backstroke. They use their time in the water as a warm-up for more strenuous workouts on balance balls, running, or resistance exercises. They sometimes do water aerobics, jumping up and down in neck-high water, and use paddleboards to flutter kick along the length of the pool.
“One of my goals for last year was to swim faster than all my grandchildren,” Miner said, sitting on the steps of the pool. She has been practicing her exit from the water, using her arms to lift herself from any point of the pool wall.
Twice a week, Miner does strength training to build muscle. But two days before, she said, her shoulder was overworked. With her work as a home health aid, providing company or help to elderly or disabled people, Miner said she doesn’t have a normal week. She does what she can.
“Sometimes I have to play catch-up,” Miner said.
Miner discovered the triathlon when she brought a 99-year-old client to the YMCA facility to swim last year. With the 2013 event approaching, Miner was waiting in her doctor’s office when she opened a copy of Guideposts, a magazine of faith-based stories. She read an article titled, “Iron Mom,” where a woman with rheumatoid arthritis was training for her eighth triathlon. She was inspired to try a triathlon herself.
Miner said she feels like a fish out of water when she runs. Her mother started her swimming when she was just 6 years old, and accompanied her as she went door-to-door selling Girl Scout cookies.
Wearing sapphire-blue uniforms with black sashes and an embroidered emblem of a ship’s wheel, Miner’s senior scouting troop, Mariner Ship 5, would go pioneering in the Adirondack Mountains, where they would forage for food, white-water canoe, and sail.
Such active formative years, Miner said, were encouraged by her mother, who had the same leg broken three times.
“I think my mother lived vicariously through me,” said Miner.
She recalled her mother’s watch over her fiber, which she now bakes in cinnamon-raisin bread loaded with bran. The family’s freezer used to have a winter’s supply of blueberries, and the family ate home-cooked foods, including stewed prunes, with lemon and whipped cream.
Because of her new regimen, Miner is trying to eat more carbohydrates and protein, but is a self-described “fruit and vegetable nut.”
“Even at my own birthday parties, I won’t eat birthday cake,” said Miner.
She lost 40 pounds using Weight Watchers, gained it back, and then lost it again, in a struggle Miner said helped her learn to focus.
Leading and following
Miner has dubbed Myers, “Lightning,” her personal trainer on Fridays.
“I’ve seen her bending her legs a lot more,” said Myers, standing on the side of the upstairs track after their run. “I see her doing whatever tips I give her and, if it’s hard, she pushes herself. She sets a goal for herself.”
Myers’s favorite sport is soccer and, like her grandmother, she loves to dance. She participates in a dance club at New Scotland Elementary School, and a running club she joined after being challenged by her older brother to run with her backpack during their walks from school.
“At first I was really slow, and, as I got better, I added books in my backpack,” said Myers.
Instead of playing basketball, Myers now spends recess racing others.
When she was 58, Miner made a visit to her orthopedic doctor, who said her knee might have to be replaced. Miner has arthritis and pseudogout.
“I said, ‘I will not.’ I said, ‘I’ll lose 10 pounds first,” Miner recalled, after a change into fresh running clothes and shoes with thick, flat soles that, she admits, are not the sneakers she needs.
“I had read somewhere that if you lose 11 pounds, it’s better for your knee,” said Miner. She suspects the knee was stressed from years of leading, following, and balancing as a dancer.
The duo ran several laps around the track, with Myers skipping at times. They stopped to do lunge exercises, taking long, slow steps, nearly touching their knees to the track floor.
The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia
The advisor: Sarah Myers, standing on the side of the YMCA track after a run, explains the importance of running with unclenched fists and long steps to her grandmother, Susan Miner. Myers comes Fridays to train with Miner, who is preparing to participate in an indoor triathlon in March.As she ran, Miner’s fists were tightly clenched. Myers advised her to relax them, and instead focus on breathing and wide strides.
Miner says that taking long walks with a blind client, to visit the post office and the Honest Weight Food co-op, sometimes carrying groceries, has made a difference.
“I’m getting stronger and stronger, and this is part of my job,” said Miner, who has read nutrition books for the blind client.
To cool down, Myers and Miner sat on balance balls. As she distributed her weight to stay atop her gray ball, Miner said she wears hearing aids, and is nearly deaf in her left ear
“Even when I dance at church, if I don’t have my hearing aids on, or if I’m not watching what I’m doing, I might just fall,” said Miner.
The value of the triathlon is not in winning, but in the training and the challenge, says Miner. To set goals and keep moving is important with her busy schedule.
“This has been helping me with stress tremendously,” Miner said of her training.
In the lobby, Miner ate a tuna sandwich and Myers had twizzlers as they discussed their workout.
Miner twirled around, laughing and holding Myers tight. The knee recommended seven years ago for a replacement is on course to take her through the March triathlon.