Ruth Myers, 99, got up early on a recent Wednesday, fixed herself breakfast and put on a pot of coffee. She ran the American flag up the pole in front of her Bayonet Point, Fla., home, just like every other morning. Then she cranked up her 2002 Buick Century and headed for the gym.
First up: 35 minutes on the stationary bike, just to work up a sweat and get loose. Next, some light weights before heading into an hourlong exercise class with about 50 other seniors in the SilverSneakers program, most of them youngsters by comparison.
"She's a celebrity," said Laurie Stidham, who leads 18 classes at the Family Fitness Center. "She's an inspiration."
Myers, a regular at the gym for the past three years, will turn 100 on Dec. 20. She has outlived two husbands and all but one relative, a niece. She retired as an executive from General Electric in Fort Wayne, Ind., after 40 years. She's never had an operation and the only pills she takes are vitamins.
And here's something you seldom see describing a centenarian: "May I be so bold as to say she has a nice little body shape."
Stidham dropped that little observation in a letter to Healthways, the company that administers SilverSneakers to Medicare-aged people in 11,000 facilities around the country. She was nominating her star exercise student for the Richard L. Swanson Inspiration Award, created in 1992 by the founder of the program, Mary Swanson, to honor her father.
Healthways named Myers one of four finalists out of 300 candidates and will honor her at a ceremony on Sept. 25 at the Family Fitness Center. That word got around fast on this Wednesday, and her fellow seniors about wore her out with their hugs.
"This is what I love," she said. "The hugs. When I go work out, I just feel so different. We have a ball, and I love it that Laurie pushes me. I sure don't feel my age."
Nobody else in her family made it into their 90s. Her mother was only 46 when she died of typhoid fever. Myers left the family farm as a teenager for Fort Wayne and survived the Great Depression cleaning houses and fixing sandwiches in a delicatessen. In 1937, she applied for a factory assembly-line job at General Electric.
"The boss told me no," she said, "but I kept coming back every day until he finally put me on. I don't give up."
At 37, she married Albert Goral, who owned a car dealership in Fort Wayne. They never had children, and he died 28 years later of a heart attack. In 1984, she married Roy Myers, who worked for a wire-manufacturing company and had been a World War II hero, nearly losing his legs to frostbite while a prisoner of war in Germany.
They retired to Florida, building homes in Sea Pines and Spring Hill. Roy died in 2005 at age 83.
"I was lucky to have two great husbands, good men," Myers said. "I don't plan to have any more."
She lives in a modular-home community where most of her neighbors are snowbirds. "It can get lonely," she said, "which is another good thing about SilverSneakers. I have lots of friends."
She recognizes that she is unique and offers a few reasons. "This is what I go by," she said, dropping a Bible on the kitchen table. She has attended Aripeka Baptist Church for 30 years.
"I've always been independent," she added. "I always made my own money and I saved it. I never had a charge card. They're the ruination of our country."
Are you a good cook?
"Sure, I eat it."
Is it true you've never had any serious medical issues?
"Well, I lost my teeth. Oh, and I had cataracts."
Any short-term goals?
"I might learn how to use computers. I'm not sure about that."
You've outlived all your family and friends. Does that make you sad?
"No, it's just the way it is. The Lord's been good to me. I've lived a good life. When my time comes, I'll be ready.
"But I have to say, I don't feel my age."