By Denise Lodge
Susan Sommers’ day begins at 4:30 a.m., and she is at the gym one hour later; yet she is not a typical fitness enthusiast. As a child, Sommers was short and overweight and was often the last one picked for team sports. As a teenager and adult, she did not work out on a regular basis.
Then, at age fifty-seven, Susan joined a Runfit class at the YMCA, has maintained her fitness since, and encourages others to do the same. One of Canada’s leading marketing and media relations experts, Sommers has been president of public relations agency Susan Sommers + Associates for nearly thirty years. She has accomplished a lot in her sixty-seven years, and her energy is not waning.
From Marketing to Marathons
In the 1950s, Sommers’ father had a rowing machine, chinning bar, and hand weights at home. But as a girl growing up in the 50s, she did not work out with her father and her brother. Although she learned to roller skate, bicycle, and swim as a child, she did not make a real commitment to fitness until she joined the YMCA in 2002. At the age of fifty-seven, Sommers began walking, jogging, and taking aerobics classes. Three years later, Sommers learned that a personal trainer at the YMCA was preparing a group of men for the Chicago Marathon, and she became intrigued by the idea of marathons.
In 2005, at the age of sixty-one, Sommers completed her first Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and, two years later, she decided to participate in that marathon again. Through training for the two marathons, Sommers discovered the benefits of preparing for races, as she began to feel stronger and healthier. She has been a member of the YMCA for ten years now, and affirms that the group of women with whom she exercises plays a key role in motivating her to maintain her fitness. She currently “mixes up” her program with weights classes, walking, and jogging. Recently, she began taking Zumba classes, a workout that combines music, dance, and aerobics.
Not Effortless, not Impossible
Sommers’ fitness motivation, habits, and commitment did not come effortlessly; she has been an entrepreneur for all of her life, and used to resist routine and habits, but now embraces structure. Since focusing on her fitness, Sommers has found that she radiates energy that lasts throughout the day, has increased discipline, focus, and patience, and has less stress in her life. She has also found that setting short- and long-term goals in her fitness life has helped her to set them in other areas of her life.
Sommers has seen for herself that weight gain and decreased energy are not inevitable aspects of aging. She has maintained her weight for two years, weighing fifteen pounds less than she did five years ago. Weight loss and maintenance are not the only benefits Sommers has witnessed in her physical well being; she has better balance and stability as a result of core-conditioning training.
What about You?
When asked what advice she would give to someone who struggles with his or her fitness, Sommers replies, “take one step.” Sommers says that setting a goal as simple as walking to the corner will help to break down and make achievable what may seem daunting. She speaks from experience; when she began training for marathons, which took her seven-and-a-half hours to complete, she increased her distance each week “bit by bit.”
Incorporating fitness into your daily life is another strategy that Sommers recommends. For example, park further away from the entrance to shopping malls or grocery stores, and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Adding fitness to each day helps to dispel the myth that fitness is gruelling, painful, and only for other people.
Races and Marathons: Not for Me
Sommers also recommends signing up for a 5K (five-kilometre) event. The thought may be unnerving, but Sommers is a walker/jogger “with endurance,” not a lightning-speed sprinter; she completes a 5K race in forty-five minutes, and advises that if you can walk for forty-five minutes, you can take part in a 5K event. Last spring, she led a “Power Source for Women” 5K walking team for the Goodlife Toronto Marathon, and plans to organize new teams for events in 2012.
The most important aspect of making fitness manageable is having a support network, says Sommers; this may consist of family, friends, colleagues, a dog or other pet to walk, an online community, a gym, a trainer, or any “community” that encourages you and participates in fitness with you. For Sommers, there is nothing more exhilarating than the feeling of achievement that comes with finishing a race, especially when you cross the finish line with your own “team.” Sommers’ husband, Peter Geyer, is a runner who also enters races, and after he has finished a race, he doubles back to “bring her in.”
One of Sommers’ personal philosophies is to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Before she started to enter races, Sommers never imagined that she would participate in a 5K or 10K race, a half-marathon, or a marathon. Now, Sommers has not only competed in thirty races in ten years, but also designs and delivers fitness programs and workshops to help others achieve their fitness goals. In the fall of 2009, Sommers co-authored Power Source for Women: Proven Fitness Strategies, Tools, and Success Stories for Women 45+, and launched the book in Los Angeles and Toronto. In January 2010, she created Power Source for Women to offer keynotes, workshops, coaching, fitness retreats and an online community for women. Her mission is to provide women with the strategies, tools, and inspiration they need to achieve “maximum fitness success.” Her website is dedicated to women at all “levels, stages, and abilities of fitness,” and aims to inspire women to launch fitness journeys and persevere one step at a time.
Sommers sees fitness as an excellent complement to giving back. For example, she and her six-year-old granddaughter have participated in Girls on the Run, an annual non-competitive 5K event that aims to “educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.” Races often involve raising money and donating to charities; they are opportunities to have fun and enhance your physical well-being while giving back to the community.
Age: Number, Mindset, or Both?
For Sommers, age is both a number and a mindset. Her age, sixty-seven, means wisdom and experience to her, yet when she plays with her grandchildren, she feels like a child. Feeling the wonder of youth and being playful do not require a particular birthdate, but a firm mindset. Sommers sees a trend of adults in their 50s and 60s beginning new pursuits, whether taking on new fitness challenges, discovering new interests, or starting new businesses. She also sees marathons as an opportunity to change perceptions about older women. Instead of focusing on the idea that aging means “it’s over,” Sommers recommends taking pride in and caring for yourself.
It certainly is not “over” for Sommers; she has written for a variety of prominent publications and networks, has authored five books, leads marketing workshops and seminars, and develops college and university courses. Despite her numerous achievements, they are nowhere near “over”; she continues to own and operate her public relations agency, teaches at the University of Toronto, recently launched her new business, enjoys spending time with her family, and plans to continue travelling.
Sommers says she will probably always work, but in the past year has stepped back to create more time for activities that accompany and balance her work schedule. Sommers has added “more time to go to a free author’s talk at a library, pick up grandchildren for lunch, visit an art gallery, meet friends for dinner, and read a book in the middle of the day – in addition to working.”
Looking forward, Sommers plans to continue her commitment to daily fitness. Setting specific fitness goals for this new year, Sommers plans to participate in six races, including two half-marathons, and wants to try a new activity, such as Pilates, kick-boxing, or water-jogging. Sommers hopes to travel more in the future, but not merely for business and/or pleasure; she adds “for fitness” to her list of travel goals. Sommers usually participates in the same local races annually, but sees in travelling the opportunity to participate in international races and events.
Sommers has come a long way from being the “last one picked”; she has recently added a new activity to her fitness routine, has launched an exciting new business, and looks forward to a new year of travelling, spending time with family and friends, continuing to expand her professional enterprises, and enjoying a balanced life.