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There's more to this class than exercise

May 22, 1998|By KATE COLEMAN

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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Arthritis exercises

For about an hour every Tuesday and Thursday, 15 people gather in the community room of Seventh-day Adventist Church of Hagerstown. They range in age from 62 to 86, and although all but one have some form of arthritis, they meet to exercise.

Dottie Wierer leads the PACE - People with Arthritis Can Exercise - class offered through Washington County Recreation and Parks. PACE is a recreational exercise program designed specifically for people with arthritis to increase joint flexibility, range of motion and maintain muscle strength.

Wierer, 62, a resident of Myersville, Md., has fibromyalgia, a form of soft-tissue rheumatism marked by stiffness and pain in the muscles and tissues around the joints. She also has some osteoarthritis.

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Her fibromyalgia was diagnosed in 1990, and she started taking the PACE class in 1992. She outlasted a couple of instructors, and when there was no one available to teach, Wierer decided to take the Arthritis Foundation's two-day training in Baltimore and lead the class herself.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Arthritis Foundation is honoring Heroes Overcoming Arthritis. Wierer was nominated by members of her class. They called her an inspiration.

"Dottie has been helpful, given us hope and a good feeling about ourselves. ... This is so meaningful to arthritis sufferers, both physically and mentally," wrote class member Marie Boyer of Boonsboro.

Wierer loves leading the class.

"I see so much advantage to myself and the people I work with," she says.

Wierer's fibromyalgia gives her some bad days and flare-ups. She says lack of sleep is her biggest problem.

You'd never think it to see her in action. With lyrical piano music in the background, Wierer leads the class through the warm up, while they are seated on chairs. The tempo picks up with a big band medley. They stand and bend. Arms are stretched, ankles are rotated, legs are lifted and feet are flexed.

Wierer says the exercise doesn't look like much. It's not aerobics; participants aren't dripping with sweat. But she's convinced that exercise helps to reduce pain, stiffness, fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression. It increases stamina, strength, flexibility and sense of well-being.

The people in her class agree.

"You use every muscle in your body. Everybody knows you feel better if you're active," says 86-year-old Jean Campbell. She is the one person in the class who doesn't have arthritis. She started attending with a friend who has Parkinson's disease, and although the class was too much for him, she's continued.

Doris Haines, 73, has been attending for about two years. The Hagerstown resident says she can tell the difference in the way she feels when she's away and misses class.

Frances Bargiel, 72, of Maugansville, has arthritis in her knees and back and says she's not embarrassed to do some of the exercises sitting in a chair while other members of her class are standing. She calls the PACE class a great group, and she benefits emotionally as well as physically.

"There's more to this class than exercise," she adds.




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