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Duo finds aqua exercise good for health, friendship

For Your Health
Rosemarie Dattillio and Mary Tappe pause during their Aqua Burn class on Friday, Sept. 1, at Atria at Cranberry Woods. Mikayla Torrence/Butler Eagle

Rosemarie Dattillio and Mary Tappe have been active their entire lives, filling time with exercise, community service and raising their families. They don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

The women, now well into their 90s, are residents at Atria at Cranberry Woods, a retirement community off Route 228 in Cranberry Township, and they continue to make a splash at the Aqua Burn exercise program.

Residents at the retirement community can choose to participate in many daily activities and classes. Thanks to the interest of two residents, the Aqua Burn class now has over a dozen participants.

Dattillio was the first resident to move into Atria, almost three years ago after construction concluded.

“I got a grand welcome when I came in,” Dattillio, 93, said. “It was fun, I cried. It was exciting. They really welcomed me with open arms. I have a lot of good friends here.”

Before moving to Cranberry, Dattillio lived in the Mon Valley.

“I had a big home, three daughters, a husband, animals,” Dattillio said. “My husband passed away, my girls all got married, so I was alone.”

She then moved into a small home for 20 years, with one of her daughters who still lived in the state checking in on her. Due to illness, her daughter urged Dattillio to look into moving to an independent living community.

Mary Tappe, a Cranberry native, moved into Atria later in the week after Dattillio. During one of the first meetings with Brianna Neely, engage life director at Atria, they suggested an aquatics class.

“We only had a few people then, and it was our mistake, we kept telling people how much fun it was,” Tappe, 96, said while laughing. “The other day, we could hardly move in that pool, it was so crowded. It’s fun, it’s very invigorating, and I think everyone enjoys it.”

According to Neely, new resident meetings are held weekly and residents can ask for any program or activity.

“(The aquatics class) started pretty much since we opened because of the residents,” Neely said. “It is what they wanted and that’s what we do, everything is for them.”

Before taking the Aqua Burn class, Tappe said she “felt average” for her age. After participating for almost three years, she “finds it more invigorating than just sitting around doing nothing.”

“I can’t do that, I have to keep active, that’s why I’m 96,” Tappe said.

In addition to keeping up with the Aqua Burn class, Tappe aims to participate in a daily exercise program at least four times a week, playing bridge and visiting friends who live outside the community as she continues to drive.

Dattillio echoes Tappe’s sentiment of always wanting to be doing something, as they have lived busy lives. Both women have participated in volunteer work for decades.

“I’ve always been active,” Dattillio said. “Before I came here, I did volunteer work every day of my life after all of my kids were gone.”

Before moving to the retirement community, Dattillio’s main exercise was from walking and swimming in a local pool about five minutes from where she used to live.

For Tappe, she used to play golf and do at-home television exercise programs. Until Aqua Burn, she had never joined an exercise class.

During the one-hour class, residents do multiple exercises and movements, working their entire bodies. The class is run by Patty Meyer, a swim instructor from the Rose E. Schneider Family YMCA, who has been instructing swim classes for active older adults for about five years.

“You know you’ve had an exercise when you get out of there,” Tappe said. “I go home and take a nap.”

Usually, participants use equipment while exercising in the pool, such as water dumbbells, foam tubes and a pullup bar.

“(Meyer) plays very loud music while we exercise, none of the other people do,” Tappe said. “That helps you keep the beat.”

According to Tappe, everyone who participates in the Aqua Burn class likes their instructor and how she teaches the class.

“She’s a very nice person, on top of being a great instructor,” Tappe said.

At Dattillio’s old pool, she participated in aquatics classes similar to Aqua Burn. However, she is adamant that this class has been a better experience for her.

“I feel like we are getting trained people here and our teacher (Meyer) is really excellent, she’s done a lot with us,” Dattillio said. “I’ve learned a lot and I think we do a lot. Patty keeps us busy, it’s good exercise.”

After they finish with the class, participants play volleyball in the pool followed by meditation, according to Dattillio.

Since starting the class, both Dattillio and Tappe feel stronger and their balance has greatly improved.

“I remember when we had to stand on one foot, I couldn’t stand until the count of three,” Tappe said. “Now, I can do the whole 10, and I couldn’t do that before.”

Dattillio attributes the Aqua Burn program to how “we look as good as we do” at their age.

“I think it’s the water, I think that program really helps us,” Dattillio said.

Due to the growing interest in the Aqua Burn program, there are discussions on adding a third class. Currently, classes are held on Tuesdays and Fridays at the heated pool.

“In the last few weeks, we got at least half a dozen women that are very interested in going into the pool, but there’s no room,” Dattillio said. “We do all kinds of exercises and we’re touching fingers, that’s not good.”

Tappe and Dattillio only met each other when they moved into the complex three years ago, but they have become fast friends, as well as next-door neighbors.

“We’re very much the same in personalities,” Tappe said.

Tappe and Dattillio are resident ambassadors, greeting new residents and promoting activities.

“I always tell (new residents that) there’s activities and to read your sheet every morning we get it,” Dattillio said. “I tell them to take advantage of it, but I always tell them that swimming is our favorite.”

When discussing the Aqua Burn program with others, both Tappe and Dattillio have heard some residents express concerns about getting in the pool because they can’t swim.

“We have a couple women I know are scared to death of the water and won’t get in, and I can understand that, that’s a phobia,” Tappe said.

Both women explain that the pool is about five feet deep and that they never swim lengths.

“For women who are terrified of the water, I would tell them (that) it’s not swimming, it’s exercise (with the water) up to your breast,” Dattillio said. “That’s all, they don’t have to be afraid. I’ve been in the water for 50 years and I still can’t swim.”

According to Neely, the Aqua Burn program has the possibility to grow to three classes a week if more residents join, and that growth could be in the next few months.

“We grow as the residents need it, so when the instructor lets me know (that) we need another class, we will grow because that is what the residents need and want,” Neely said. “That’s how I run our programs, it’s for the residents.”

The Aqua Burn class is available for all Atria residents, including independent living, assisted living and memory care.

Mary Tappe poses during her Aqua Burn class on Friday, Sept. 1, at Atria at Cranberry Woods. Mikayla Torrence/Butler Eagle
Rosemarie Dattillio poses during her Aqua Burn class on Friday, Sept. 1, at Atria at Cranberry Woods. Mikayla Torrence/Butler Eagle
Aqua Burn class members play a game of volleyball on Friday, Sept. 1, at Atria at Cranberry Woods. Mikayla Torrence/Butler Eagle
Rosemarie Dattillio participates in a game of volleyball during the Aqua Burn class on Friday, Sept. 1, at Atria at Cranberry Woods. Mikayla Torrence/Butler Eagle
Patty Meyer leads her Aqua Burn class through a series of activities on Friday, Sept. 1, at Atria at Cranberry Woods. Mikayla Torrence/Butler Eagle
Aqua Burn class members exercise with weights on Friday, Sept. 1, at Atria at Cranberry Woods. Mikayla Torrence/Butler Eagle
Aqua Burn class members meditate to end their session on Friday, Sept. 1, at Atria at Cranberry Woods. Mikayla Torrence/Butler Eagle
Rosemarie Dattillio hits a beach ball in a game of volleyball during the Aqua Burn class on Friday, Sept. 1, at Atria at Cranberry Woods. Mikayla Torrence/Butler Eagle

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