Retirement community competes in senior cycling event
Seniors at Maravilla, a Santa Barbara retirement community, are proving that athletes come in all ages and abilities in a 10-day cycling competition called Tour de Zest.
Zest is the name of the activities department at Maravilla and its 32 sister communities (which are managed by Senior Resource Group).
All of the SRG retirement communities are racing each other with mileage logs during the event — the first wide-scale program since the pandemic’s inception.
A total of 50 Maravilla residents signed up for the challenge and are participating in cycling classes as well as independently logging miles in the workout room.
There are a variety of machines labeled with a Tour de Zest sticker. Some options are accessible for people in wheelchairs.
For those who can’t hop on a bike themselves, John Siegel Boettner pedals people in a cart attached to his bicycle. He, a former middle school teacher, volunteers the service at a couple retirement communities.
“Every level of ability allows them to participate in the Tour de Zest. This is basically what we’re trying to do is fight ageism at every turn,” Jill Hyers, Zest director, told the News-Press. “You’re never too old.”
One woman decided to start working out when she was 95 years old. Now, at 97, she flexes her biceps and asks people to feel her “guns.” Despite having spinal stenosis, she found exercises she could do.
Residents have gone kayaking and frequently attend boxing classes. There’s a hiking club that even tackles the inclines at Elings Park.
Ms. Hyers didn’t want to lose the social aspect of Zest and the spirit of physical wellness during the pandemic. She consulted with public health officials to keep residents safe while providing activities.
Zest staff spiced up the day with music and dancing. They rolled a speaker around the community, inviting residents to dance from their patios.
They held car shows, art shows and even a Santa Barbara Symphony concert.
“So when you get up in a pandemic, unless you have something to do and something to look forward to, you’re not going to thrive,” Ms. Hyers said. “Now what we needed them to do was not just thrive but survive. Because isolation is the number one killer for a lot of people, we had to be very careful.”
Scientists declared loneliness an epidemic before COVID-19, so Maravilla staff wanted to guard the community from both ailments.
Linda Perlin, who has lived at Maravilla for three and a half years, grieved the death of her husband a few months ago.
“Thank goodness for this community where I feel support, and there’s so many activities like (cycling),” she said. “It just keeps you alive.
“You have no reason to be lonely here. There’s always something to do or somebody to talk to.”
During mealtimes, neighbors would sit in their doorways and chat while they ate.
“Those of us who live alone, we could talk to people,” Fran Oliver, a seven-year Maravilla resident said.
The women in a Sunday morning cycling class seemed to agree that they got to know their neighbors more closely during the challenges of the pandemic.
“There was normalcy to a different, challenging time,” Ms. Oliver said.
Maravilla residents received their second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine Feb. 2, and the staff made it a celebration with music and photo opportunities.
“I feel the way they handled all of us getting vaccinated was a miracle,” Ms. Oliver said.
Around 600 residents were vaccinated in two days at Maravilla. Now, they’re able to participate in activities without masks.
Ms. Hyers updates a leaderboard in the fitness room with the names and pictures of the cyclists, a tribute to their dedication.
She thinks Team Maravilla has the most participants of all 33 communities competing. The winning team will receive a trophy.
She already brags about the residents, citing accomplishments and talents she’s heard around the community.
“There’s people that just have done amazing things, and they keep bringing their talents here,” she said. “The only reason this is such an amazing place is because all of our residents feel like there’s something to give back. So there’s something for them to wake up for in the morning.”
She describes her job as helping them live their best life, whether it looks like a day on the couch or on a bicycle.