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YOUNGSTOWN As a healthy hobby, fencing has become a family affair



Published: Sat, April 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The demonstration was to show that exercise and diet are critical in promoting good health.

YOUNGSTOWN -- The elderly woman and the young boy held thin swords in the air, moving both the weapons and their bodies in swift response to the sharply spoken commands.

"Thrust!" the instructor barked. "Advance!" "Recover!"

They twirled the swords to the en garde position, clashing them together lightly to evade each other's moves.

The grandmother and her grandson were taking part in the traditional art of fencing, but it wasn't an athletic competition.

The point of the demonstration during the Stars Diabetes Outreach Project at Oakhill Renaissance Place was to show that fencing is a hobby that promotes good health at any age -- and one that can help keep diabetes in check.

Urged by grandson: Pearl Wellington, 81, of Youngstown, said she recently took up fencing at the urging of her 8-year-old grandson, David Walden of Liberty.

Wellington's husband had suffered from diabetes, she said, giving her an appreciation of how vital diet and exercise is -- an importance that grows as the aging process advances.

"If a person just sits around, they get lazy, and their muscles aren't as strong," she said. "You have to keep moving."

Her grandson was looking for a hobby they could do together, she said. His karate instructor, A.E. Vea of Youngstown, recently had begun classes in fencing, and the youngster talked her into signing up.

"I recommend it," Wellington said. "It's not hard."

But it certainly keeps her moving, she added, and the grip on the sword, or foil, has helped lessen the pain of her arthritis.

What's required: The moves require balance and bending of the knees. It may not sound like much to a young person, but it's a bit more challenging to someone older or one suffering from disease.

Fencing emphasizes discipline and training. These same qualities, Vea said, are necessary to control diabetes through diet, medication and exercise. He should know -- Vea is a diabetic.

Looking much younger than his 65 years, Vea is a major proponent of physical activity to fight the disease. He has been a fitness instructor in Youngstown for 37 years and teaches karate, ballroom dancing and tai chi, a system of movements and postures developed in China for self-defense and as an aid to meditation.

He got the audience on its feet and led participants through a series of arm exercises and body movements, acting at times as part drill instructor, part cheerleader.

"Get your hands in the air," he exhorted, "and swing your arms, now chop -- like when the old man doesn't bring the check home -- now punch, now turn."

Vea pulled out several people to take part in basic fencing exercises. "You've got two weapons, baby," he exclaimed to a woman with a cane.

His audience reacted enthusiastically and with a healthy dose of laughter.

What to remember: But it's the need for exercise and sticking to a regimen that Patricia Greene, Stars program coordinator, hopes the participants remember.

"Exercise controls their blood sugar ... increases their circulation and helps with weight loss," she said.

The program was one of two offered monthly at Renaissance Place and aimed at promoting good health and nutritional habits among diabetics. Programs are also scheduled twice a month in Warren at the Warren West Community Health Center.

"There's no cure for diabetes, but you'll certainly have a healthier lifestyle," Greene added.

Wellington, meanwhile, keeps busy with tours and housework in addition to her fencing training. Her grandson, though, said he's hoping to persuade her to take up his other hobby -- karate.




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