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This man's key to longevity is strength of mind and body

People of Collingwood: Harold Zukerman, active volunteer with the Collingwood YMCA and Collingwood General Marine Hospital

He’s 92 and still going strong.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we sat down with Harold Zukerman, an active volunteer with the Collingwood YMCA and Collingwood General and Marine Hospital who pioneered the On the Move senior fitness classes at the YMCA.

Q: Can you give me a little background on you?

A: I’ve lived in Collingwood since 2002. I used to be a skier. I started when I was 42, and I loved it. I bought a place at Rob Roy (southwest of Collingwood). I loved it so much that I decided that I would work hard for 10 years, retire at 60 and retire there. My wife just loved it.

Sure enough, to the day, we moved to Rob Roy. Somebody said to me, “But Harold, what are you going to do when you retire?”

I didn’t know. I thought I might just laze around, do some gardening, do some reading.

My wife said, “Oh, no.”

Within a week, she took me down to the YMCA and got me a membership, and got one for herself. It had been open for about five or six months (at that time).

One day as I was leaving, there was a sign that said there was a course for people who wanted to volunteer. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to volunteer but I thought it would be nice to take the course to know why I’m exercising.

I took the course in May of 1986. In the summer, my wife and I were talking and we thought it would be great if there were some kind of exercise course for seniors.

In September, I was asked to start a class for seniors as a leader. It was funny because my wife, Joyce and I had just talked about it, so I said sure.

I think we signed up 13 or 14 people. I think about 10 showed up.

We started having it once a week, then we decided to have it twice a week. We had about three or four people coming to a session.

Then, it started to grow.

One time, in attendance, we had over 60 people in one session.

Q: What kind of exercise was it?

A: Aerobic exercises. Some stretching. Mainly for heart, lungs, legs and core.

(Eventually) we had six or seven instructors. We took turns, which was great. We would learn from and support each other. It also meant if we went on holidays, someone could take over.

There was a time when my classes went down (in attendance) but others would go up. I thought, they’re telling me something. (laughs)

There was another class going on, which was called Chair Yoga. This was about three years ago. I decided to take over that.

It’s a lot of stretching with weights, a rod or balls. I do it three times a week.

Sometimes I get five or six (participants), sometimes close to 20. It depends on the weather and time of year.

Q: You’ve been at the Collingwood YMCA volunteering since 1986. What kinds of changes have you seen here over that time?

A: Tremendous changes. When I first started, we were hoping to get 2,000 members. Now, we’re over 4,000. That’s one big change.

The building has been added on, which is great.

I was on the board twice. We used to be independent. Then, we voted to become part of the Simcoe Muskoka YMCA and that’s a tremendous help because we get support from them. We’re not so isolated. It’s great.

Q: You do other volunteering as well, like with the hospital. Do you want to talk about that?

A: I spend more time there than I do here. (laughs)

Six or seven years ago, one of the nurses at the hospital approached me.

She said they had a room that they’d like to use to have patients come in for exercise. They asked if maybe I could do some exercises with them.

I said sure.

So, once a week, from about 2 p.m. until about 4 p.m. they had patients come in who were in wheelchairs, or people who could walk with canes to do exercise.

Then, they closed that because they needed the room for beds.

In the meantime, one of the ladies that I play bridge with told me they needed someone to help with the meals and asked me if I’d be interested.

I said sure.

So I help with the meals. Some people have to be fed. Some need help with water, magazines, or just someone to spend some time with them. While I was doing that, one of the nurses who was taking yoga here asked me if I’d be interested in doing exercises with people who are on dialysis.

He explained that people who come in for dialysis are there for four hours, three times a week. They’re just sitting there. They can move their legs and arms a bit, but they’re sitting in a chair for hours.

I said sure.

The first time I went, nobody wanted to do the exercises. (laughs) The second time, almost everybody wanted exercises, and the third time too.

Each person gets individual attention and about 20 minutes of exercises. There’s usually about six or seven people there.

Some of them are quite lonely and want to talk, and some of them are quite spiritual. So, I took a course in spiritual care. Sometimes I read to them from spiritual books, or prayers... whatever their religion is.

Q: Do you find that helps?

A: For them? Yeah. Last week I spent a whole hour with one lady. She wanted to talk and she has strong faith, she wanted to express it. There’s another lady who is in the hospital for the third time – she’s very depressed. I read something encouraging to her. Sometimes I just listen. So that’s what I do. (laughs)

Q: What makes you choose to volunteer with these causes specifically? Is there something about physical activity that calls out to you?

A: I’ll tell you.

What draws me is the support I get from the staff here. They’ll help out to set up the room and such. That encourages me.

The people who participate, we have lots of fun. We talk, I tell them jokes.

At the hospital, I also get lots of support. I’m also on the patient-family advisory committee at the hospital.

The other thing is... I have a DVD on happiness.

An interviewer talked to a person who worked with Mother Teresa. He gave up a good job at a bank to volunteer with Mother Teresa.

When he was interviewed, the reason he said he was doing it is, he considered his life a loan from God, and now he was repaying that loan with a little bit of interest by helping people.

That’s the way to look at it.


Starting Jan. 14, Zukerman will be starting a new class, called On the Move: Barre Balance. It is open to senior YMCA members for seven weeks. Please pre-register as there is only space for nine participants.

For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every Saturday. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected].