If you head to the Bend Golf and Country Club swimming pool on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday mornings, chances are there will be a water aerobics class underway. It's a typical thing to encounter at a fitness center, but take a closer look at this particular class and you'll see it's anything but ordinary.
Honey Canney makes her way from Touchmark Senior Living Community to the country club by bus three days a week to teach that water aerobics class. She teaches the class for free, but that's not even the most noteworthy thing about it. Honey is 100 (and a half) years old, which makes both Honey and her class one of a kind.
Born on the 30th of January in 1916, Honey always loved the water. While swimming at a pool at age 13, a boy jumped from a high dive and landed on her back, knocking her vertebra out of place. She spent the next eight years in and out of the doctor's office, until one visit changed her life.
"When I was 21 a doctor said, 'Don't worry about it, you'll be in a wheelchair by the time you are 25,'" Honey says, "That was a challenge, that got me going."
At the time she lived in Alameda, where a friend introduced her to a water exercise class called Aquathentics. From her very first class, Honey was hooked. Finding a form of exercise that allowed her to stretch and strengthen her whole body without impact to her muscles and joints was just what she needed to get her physical health back.
In 1972, Honey moved from Alameda to Bend, where to her disappointment no one knew anything about Aquathentics. Determined to continue her water fitness routine, she returned to California and attended a teacher training. Upon returning to Bend, Honey searched for a pool where she would feel at home doing her water exercises by herself. That's when she found Bend Golf and Country Club.
From the start Honey's water exercises drew attention. "As people came and went they said, 'Well, what are you doing?'" says Honey, "It just evolved from there."
As people joined her unofficial classes, they found that they were becoming stronger and more flexible. Before she knew it, Honey was teaching an official class that continues today.
Over the years, the size of Honey's water aerobics class has fluctuated, but according to the Club's director of activities, Margaret Collier, attendance has doubled in the last two years. "Two years ago there were only six to eight students in Honey's class. Now it has about 15 or 16 students who regularly attend," says Collier.
And since Honey's class also draws new members and retains them, two years ago the club changed Honey's status so that she no longer pays for membership.
Honey's students are huge fans. The majority are 60 years and older, but students of all ages and abilities trickle in and out. Beverly Gordon has been attending Honey's classes for the past five years and is going on 75. When Gordon first joined the class she didn't think it would be challenging enough, but says it has helped her with her balance, strength, and flexibility. "Her class covers every single part of your body, including deep breathing exercises," says Gordon.
According to Gordon, Honey incorporates a breathing exercise that requires participants to hold their breath for a full minute two separate times, "Eventually everyone in the class works up to doing it."
"You feel like you are capable of hiking and biking and kayaking. It's amazing," says Gordon.
Even more amazing is the fact that Honey has recently lost most of her sight. These days, she relies only on peripheral vision.
"I can't see the food on my plate or a phone number in front of me...but I can move my bod...and I'm not going to sit back and cry because I can't do something," says Honey.
So how does she manage to teach a class? No problem, says Honey. "That's all hand and foot," she says.
When asked if she credits a lifetime of water aerobics for her good health, Honey says, "That's only part of it. It's the joy of exchanging lives. Everyone shares their less-than-happy moments and their more-than-happy moments, and when you're in the middle of something like that it becomes a joyful experience—and I have been privy to having that all of these years."