It wasn't the toll from lugging a heavy tool box to work that finally sent Ray Clark to the gym. It was something more profound. He lost his wife of 67 years. Then he lost his daughter. He was looking for something to fill the empty hours.
"I was getting a little lazy at home, and I decided I'd go down to the exercise club," he recalled.
That was more than three years ago, when Clark was 98. As he turned 102 last week, Clark was able to curl 40 pounds, work out vigorously on a rowing machine and deftly pluck bouncing eight-pound kettle bells from the air with the hand-eye coordination of a much younger man.
"He's a tenacious son of a gun," said Thom Hunter, Clark's 70-year-old personal trainer at the Sport & Health Club in the Lake Forest section of Gaithersburg. "They built them tougher in those days. He doesn't say he can't do it until he tries and sees he can't."
In a single 151-pound package, Clark embodies some of the greatest hopes and concerns that public health experts have for the fitness and health of the "older old", the growing population of people over 85. Clark has significantly improved his strength, balance, endurance and range of motion over the past three years, staving off frailty, possibly saving untold medical costs and providing that gains can be made at any age.