Age is nothing but a number for Bernie Savastano

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

Looking out of the window at Cheshire Fitness Club on a recent rainy Wednesday, it’s easy to forgive anyone who decides not to brave the grey skies and soggy conditions to show up to the 9:30 a.m. Max Strength class.

That is until Bernie Savastano walks in the door - 17 minutes before class begins.

Savastano joined Cheshire in 2004 at age 70. Approaching her 83rd birthday in January, the Asheville resident is a regular at classes at the fitness center.

Bernie Savastano participates in a Max Strength Class at Cheshire Fitness Club on Dec. 20.

Julie Harrison started teaching classes at Cheshire a decade ago. She's had Savastano in her classes since 2012 and sees her now about twice a week

"She's in my strength classes, and that's really where she stands out, because she's so strong," Harrison said. The class lasts an hour. Class members warm up and hit each muscle group three to four times. Push-ups, squats, lunges and planks are part of the workout.

"Bernie's push-ups stand out because she does them on her toes," Harrison said, "and she does more than anyone half her age."

Savastano can also do tricep dips "forever," Harrison said.

A confident Bernie Savastano takes a spot in the front of Cheshire Fitness Club's Max Strength Class on a rainy morning last week.

It would be easy to assume that the retired mother of two, who moved to Asheville from Florida in 2004, has a long history of staying in shape. But that would be incorrect. 

"Before I retired I didn't have time to think about exercising," Savastano said before her Dec. 20. "I would just go to work, go home, mostly focusing on raising the kids."

She picked up Jazzercise when she moved from Chicago to Panama City, Florida after retiring. Initially, the dance fitness classes were more about finding a way to be active with her newfound free time. 

Her investment in physical fitness paid off. 

"I have no knee replacements, no hip replacements," she said. "I'm not using a walker yet. I learned quickly how important it is to stay in shape."

Harrison calls her an "inspiration" to others in her classes.

"Everybody just wants to be as strong as Bernie when they get to be her age," she said. "Everyone in class respects her so much."

Savastano doesn't pay much attention to what others are doing and saying in class since she's busy focusing on getting the most out of herself. She is at Cheshire four days a week, taking step and salsa classes and classes designed to improve strength and cardio health.

 "I go in, focus on myself and what I'm doing, and do the best I can," she said. As a result, she "feels great," she said. 

"Ask me if I take any prescription medicine. That's a big 'no,'" she said. "Ask me if I eat junk food. That's also a big 'no.'"

Taking care of her body allows Savastano, a widow, to do her own yard work. "I push a manual mower at home," she said proudly. "Once a week in the summer."

When she's not exercising or cutting her grass, Savastano enjoys less strenuous hobbies like tending to her garden or doing needlepoint.

"I'm not really too physically active outside of my classes," she said. "My workouts here are how I get my energy out."

That outlet is helping Savastano try to "beat this age thing," as she tells Harrison often after class. 

"I know everybody in our class hopes to be in the kind of shape she's in when we're her age," Harrison said. 

Savastano, though, credits Harrison and the other instructors at Cheshire. 

"The only reason I've been able to keep at this for so long is because of the instructors here," she said. "They're really good, and they keep us doing different things, which helps it stay fun and interesting." 

What advice does Savastano have for people who are struggling to keep up their fitness routines?

"You just have to keep at it," she said.