In retirement, IRS officer pushes seniors to get fit

Students in Roseann Westlake’s fitness class probably aren’t losing weight for bikini season. Nor are they likely to enter the next strongman competition.

But that doesn’t stop Westlake from giving the seniors at the Lincoln County YMCA a challenging workout.

“They’re getting stronger and stronger,” she said. “You don’t have to give up just because you’re older.”

Westlake can empathize. Seven years ago, the 70-year-old Lincolnton resident retired after 23 years with the Internal Revenue Service.

She worked her way up to a revenue officer in Ohio, making cold calls to people who owed money.

“It’s the last stop – the end of the line for collections,” she said. “These are hard-core cases. But I enjoyed it.”

Soon after retiring, Westlake and her husband moved to Charlotte. She also had hip replacement surgery, which made her more sedentary.

Within six months, Westlake was restless and depressed.

“I wasn’t doing much of anything,” she said. “I was really bored. I’m not a sitter.”

She increased her workouts at the YMCA, spending time in senior classes to work on mobility after her surgery.

One day she noticed a posting for a financial assistance coordinator position.

Figuring it would be a good segue from her past career, Westlake applied and got the job.

After five years, the position was eliminated. Not wanting to leave the workforce a second time, Westlake followed the fitness coordinator’s suggestion to apply for an open Pilates instructor position.

“She knew how much I loved Pilates and thought I would be a good fit,” she said.

After she got her Pilates and YMCA certifications, Westlake was hired.

Today, Westlake teaches at Sally’s YMCA in Denver, the Lincolnton YMCA and The Rock Health & Fitness club.

But her favorite class is the Total Strength Seniors group at the Lincolnton YMCA.

“I love my seniors,” she said. “It’s awesome to see all of these people in their 60s and 70s being so active.”

Westlake said she applies a lot of the skills she learned as a revenue officer to her classes.

“It’s a hard-core job, but you’re still helping people by getting the IRS off their backs,” she said. “So there’s a thread of helping people find solutions for their problems.”

Westlake teaches seniors how the Y can modify workouts for their arthritis, bad knees or other ailments.

But don’t mistake Westlake’s gentleness for softness on senior fitness.

As ’60s and ’70s bands such as Kansas and ABBA blast from a stereo upfront, seniors work with weights, perfect their wall push-ups and use resistance bands.

Westlake is helping them reach their fitness goals for strength, weight loss and flexibility, she said.

“They really seem to enjoy the fact that somebody younger isn’t teaching them and treating them like they’re seniors,” Westlake said. “I think I stepped it up a notch, and I think they really like it.”

Several seniors attend her class each week, the oldest of whom is 92.

“When you get old, you have to keep moving,” said student Norma Rantanen, 77. “You can’t sit or you’re going to waste away. Your body isn’t going to work anymore.”

Westlake agrees.

“My advice to anyone retiring, or with a lot of time on their hands, is to leave their options wide open,” she said. “You never know what will happen when you let go and let life lead you.”