They call him “Splash Gordon.”
He’s the 77-year-old water exercise instructor at Sta-Fit North. He’s the one with the receding hairline, the friendly grin, and the droll chuckles all of which manages to coax yet another stretch from his aging students.
His name is really Gordon Brannon, and careful observers will note he shares the same last name as Sta-Fit’s president, Jeff Brannon. Yep, that’s his son. But Gordon Brannon never much mentions the connection. He’s proud of his son, all right, but he got the job on his own merits, and, besides, he doesn’t want to ruffle the waters at the club.
But the Sta-Fit staff isn’t shy. For several weeks, the reader board outside advertised “Senior Aerobics with Splash Gordon.” Seniors flocked in, lured by the bargain rates of $1.50 per class and the patient instructor their own age. (Says the club manager, “You get a young, little aerobics teacher and they just can’t relate.”)
“I’m so proud of him,” says Jeff Brannon. “It’s really exciting seeing him in there working with people. He’s so good at it.”
Four mornings a week, Gordon Brannon teaches water exercise, a series of 35 movements with names like Frog Jump and Milk the Cow.
On Tuesdays, a van pulls up and drops off a group of blind exercisers who join the group, too.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Mary Lou Groom’s golden retriever Lona curled up patiently at the edge of the pool, a leather harness propped on her back.
The steamy room smelled of chlorine; a whirlpool bubbled a few steps up from the pool; a pod of orca whales leaped through a brilliant blue sky on a painted mural on the north wall. Outside, the March clouds spread gray and damp against the sky.
In the blue-green pool, the class surrounded Brannon. Only their heads, with bald pates and gray waves, bathing caps and shower caps, bobbed above the water.
Brannon introduced an exercise called Yes, No and Maybe. For Yes, group members shook their heads up and down, for No, sideways, back and forth. And Maybe? They shrugged their shoulders up and down.
Sighted volunteers helped explain exercises to blind class members. Brannon also described the movements - palms up, palms down. After introducing an exercise with prayer-like hands and bent elbows, Brannon noticed a blind man confused about the arm movements. He glided over to grasp the man’s arms and stretch them into the proper arch.
The exercises are designed to work every muscle in the body. Participants report they feel stronger and healthier.
Gordon Farley and his wife Sally combine the class with a daily half-mile swim and a new diet. He has lost 75 pounds in six months; his wife 45.
They climbed out of the pool early that day, headed for an appointment.
“I’ve set a goal to lose one-half of my original body weight,” Gordon Farley said, grinning. “I’ve got about 45-50 pounds to go. I’ll do it!”
In the water, Gordon Brannon asked the class to Shake, Rattle and Roll. A sturdy, gray-haired woman with glasses and blue-green bathing suit twisted through the water like a ‘60s go-go dancer.
Afterward, students headed for the whirlpool. Eighty-four-year-old Leonard Nelson, past-president of Day Out For The Blind, and a former life insurance agent, said, “This has filled a big place in my life.”
Mary Lou Groom reconnected with her guide dog, Lona, after the class. “I really like Gordon,” Groom said. “He’s so patient and just really kind.”
Out in the lobby, Brannon called out goodbyes.
The class began at Brannon’s suggestion. He participated in a similar one at Fairwood Village.
“Most seniors sit around with nothing to do,” Brannon said. “(This class) gives them a chance to get out. It gives them a purpose.”
He watches people’s limbs become more flexible, their gait sturdier, their smiles wider.
“We laugh and joke and make a lot of fun out of it,” he said. Social connections may strengthen aging souls most.
Class over, he climbed into his white Chevy Lumina, marked by a customized licence plate holder his son gave him, and zoomed off.
The license holder’s inscription: “Splash Gordon.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 color photos