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PCC grad fit to prevent osteoporosis

Story by Eloise Holland and photos by James Hill.

Anna GrappeLast month, 74-year-old PCC graduate Anna Grappe stood up in front of an eighth grade class to talk about her experience growing up in Germany during World War II.

This is something she never would have had the courage to do before coming to PCC.

“I’ve become more confident,” she said about the change she’s seen in herself since going back to school. “I took Speech 111 and talked about osteoporosis during my practicum for the Fitness Technology program.”

Grappe graduated this June from PCC’s Gerontology program, which she began after going through the Fitness Technology program and realizing she wanted to focus specifically on senior fitness.

While her presentation to the middle school students was no doubt a valuable learning experience for them, it was also great practice for Grappe, whose passion is spreading the word about senior fitness and osteoporosis prevention.

Grappe started taking PCC fitness classes during her summers off to stay in shape for her physically demanding job as a Portland Public School cafeteria manager. After 20 years, she was “forced into retirement” and decided to go back to school.

“I was very much interested in senior fitness,” said Grappe. “I believe that exercise and a healthy diet can really help seniors be healthy during their later years.”

Osteoporosis prevention, specifically, is a cause close to Grappe’s heart. She says her mother could have had a good retirement, but the disease took that away from her.

“It really diminished the quality of her life so much,” she said.

Osteoporosis – a disease characterized by low bone mass and increased risk of fractures – afflicts 10 million people in the United States, with an additional 34 million at risk. A person with osteoporosis can fracture a bone spontaneously or by doing something as innocuous as sneezing.

At first, Grappe said, it was intimidating to go back to school as an older student, but gradually as she did well in her classes and discovered her talent for weight training, she grew more comfortable.  In the process, she set an example for students and instructors alike.

“Anna has inspired all of us as a passionate lifelong learner, who’s also in incredible physical shape,” said Jan Abushakrah, faculty chair of the Gerontology program. “She’s our role model for healthy and active aging.”

While at PCC, Grappe participated in internships at the Metro and Griffith YMCAs, and now is looking for a job that allows her to work with seniors in weight training, nutrition and the prevention of osteoporosis.

In the meantime, Grappe continues to take weight-training classes at PCC, where her instructor likes to recount the time Grappe did 32 repetitions lifting a 45-pound bar.

Anna Grappe“I imagine when people see me they think I’m not very strong,” said a smiling Grappe. “My weight training instructor tells everybody about that.”

As an older student who has gone back to school, Grappe is in good company. According to PCC’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness, the number of full-time equivalent students 50 or older taking career and technical courses at PCC increased by 18.9 percent since 2005-06.

Abushakrah has also seen this trend in the Gerontology program.

“While Anna is currently our oldest student at 74, two out of every three Gerontology students is 40 and older, and two of every five students is 50 and older,” said Abushakrah.

Having earned all A’s in PCC’s Gerontology program, Grappe is well qualified to dispense a little advice to older students following in her footsteps.

“I recommend for senior students to be successful to sit in the front row,” she said. “They can hear better, they can see better what’s written on the blackboard. They’re not going to be distracted by what other students are doing.”

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