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Strong women unite

It was a completely unexpected encounter. I was entering a local market when I heard a breathy-sounding, "Oh ... ohhh."

A lovely, white-haired woman, wearing lots of cherry-red lipstick and a panicked expression, was caught between the closely positioned automatic doors. She was having a difficult time extracting herself.

I may have exacerbated her situation by my too-quick entry into the store. Her physical fragility was momentarily overwhelming. I came to her aid, of course. But even after I, and others, had successfully untrapped her, assuring she was unhurt, she walked slowly and uncertainly with a delicate gait. On that day, more than a year ago, Dagmar and I kept encountering one another as we shopped. Each time we met as we moved up or down an aisle, she would thank me again for "saving her life." When that happened a third time, I decided to do just that — save her life.

I provided Dagmar with information about Oregon State University Extension's researched-based Strong Women program with its focus on structured, repetitive movements using freehand and leg weights. I told her a few stories about how the aging women (and those few courageous men) attending these sessions had impressively improved their strength, endurance, flexibility and balance — some would say their "lives overall." I invited her to observe a Strong Women class.

Her follow-through was impressive. A few days later, Dagmar was enrolled in Extension's one-hour, three-times-a-week, strength-training classes. A year later, she is still at it. It's apparent in her appearance. She appears less fragile, more self-confident. Her gait and balance are better. At age 86 and the oldest participant in the classes, she is a visibly more successful ager.

There is more to this story. As often happens when people, women in particular it seems, come together to focus on physically improving self and situation, their life-histories are shared. Support is offered. Within the Strong Women group, it gradually became known that Dagmar was an artist who began painting at age 66 and had, for the most part, kept her beautiful oil and pastel artwork leaning against the walls of her mobile home and out of the public eye.

Strong women make things happen. And so they have. One of the Strong Women leaders, let's call her Sue, has arranged for Dagmar to show her work — and possibly sell it. (One of her amazing pastels of lavender fields already hangs in our living room).

On Saturday, June 16, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the OSU Extension auditorium, 569 Hanley Road, off Highway 238, Dagmar and her Strong Women friends, myself included, will support a display of her art. Be forewarned, it may take your breath away. Some of the proceeds from this event will go to developing more Strong Women leader-training programs in the valley. Information about the Strong Women program will be available for anyone interested.

No pressure to buy — but we invite you to come and admire. Lemonade, cookies and good feelings will abound. You will meet the beauteous Dagmar and observe creative aging at its colorful best.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.