Days before her 80th birthday on Sunday, May 18, Vernice “VJ” Murphy and her rescue dog Cooper went for a brisk stroll around the block. The daily walk is just part of an exercise routine that Ms Murphy says “keeps me young.”
She also takes a body sculpting class, “Ultimate Conditioning” with instructor Jill Deierlein, at NYA Sports & Fitness three mornings a week. Laughing as she recalled the class at the NYA, Ms Murphy, thinking of her own age, said the fitness facility “has something for everyone.”
With a lifelong belief in physical activity and a good diet, Ms Murphy has again begun her regular routine of NYA classes, but weekly dance class is now on hold due to a hip replacement in December.
Ms Deierlein especially has been reminding her student to “watch that hip,” Ms Murphy said. Despite the hip surgery, Ms Murphy bounced back into her exercise, surprising her instructor.
“I was so impressed,” said Ms Deierlein. “She was back in my class within two months.” A longtime fitness instructor, Ms Deierlein said, “I think her quick and speedy recover was due to the fact that she was in great physical condition going into her operation.”
Ms Murphy agrees.
“I had no problems after surgery, and they said it was exercise,” Ms Murphy said. “I also believe in pushing. You have to push yourself.”
Ms Murphy said she had breast cancer nine years ago and, “I tried to stay active and healthy then, too. I am sure it helped that time also.”
The NYA instructor finds great inspiration in Ms Murphy.
“I have been teaching 20 years and never seen anybody like her. She is an inspiration to all of us,” said Ms Deierlein.
NYA Executive Director Dorrie Carolan said, “She is such an inspiration. She is an example, an inspiration to get people to exercise.” When asked if she believes there is a link between physical activity and health, Ms Deierlein said, “I believe it’s a mental and a physical way of life and it’s something we all need to incorporate into our daily routine and daily lifestyle.”
Ms Deierlein said, “You can always count on her to be in class; she rarely misses a class. I love her positive outlook and enthusiasm.”
Three times a week Ms Murphy arrives for her morning class and works out “the entire hour,” her instructor said.
The weekly classes are not just about the workout.
“It is a good social outlet, an ability to meet others,” Ms Deierlein said. In the week before Ms Murphy’s birthday, the other women in class planned a party for her. “It was nice to see the special bond that we formed carry over outside of class,” she said. Ms Murphy said, “They could not believe how old I was.”
“Exercise keeps me young,” she said. Her mother lived to be 92, and was “pretty active until the last year or so,” Ms Murphy said. “I believe in exercising. It keeps you going.”
Of her classes with Ms Deierlein, she said, “I don’t think about it in the mornings, I just do it.”
Once her hip is healed completely, she plans to resume ballroom line dancing classes that she also enjoys weekly. Although she said her hip feels fine, she may not yet be ready for “skipping and hopping.”
“I don’t give up or give in easily,” she said. “Being fit and doing things you like to do — you feel better about things at the end of the day. When you can’t do things you want to do, go where want to go…” She let her thoughts trail off saying, “You have to keep moving.”
Regarding her classes at the NYA, she said, “No breaks. It’s my nature, I try to do what [other students in their 40s, 50s, and 60s] do.”
She also does light weight training.
“I notice my arms aren’t as flabby,” she joked. “It’s important to me to look good and feel good. Eat healthy and exercise,” she said, “You look better, you feel better.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Ms Murphy lived there until retirement and moved to Delaware. Her daughter, Charlene Bailey, lives in Bethel, which is why Ms Murphy moved to Newtown several years ago after her husband died, she said.
Her two sons and two daughters, she said, “all believe in keeping busy and keeping healthy.”
Children Tanya Collins, Milton Agurs, and Charles Agurs, all live in Washington DC.
Passing on the legacy of keeping fit, Ms Bailey said she learned that from her grandmother. Of her mother Mattie Jackson, Ms Murphy said, “She inspired my daughter, always tried to teach the right way to eat.” Ms Murphy said her daughter Tanya Collins, a dietician with her PhD, teases her, saying, “I went to college to learn Grandma was right.”