Seniors test out cutting edge Seniors Play Park in Fenelon Falls

By Jamie Morris

Seniors test out the cutting edge Seniors Play Park in Fenelon Falls
Penni Holdham, left, Doug Elmslie, top rt, Khosrow Yazdani. Photos: Jamie Morris.

A politician, a physiotherapist, and an artist walk to a barre. That’s not the set-up for a joke. The ballet barre is one of 13 components in the recently-opened Seniors Play Park in Fenelon Falls, one of the first such parks in Canada, and I’ve asked the three — all seniors themselves — to spend some time exploring the very compact apparatus and then to share their thoughts.

The politician is Doug Elmslie, currently Deputy Mayor and for the past 13 years councillor for the ward that includes Fenelon Falls. He’s also Chair of the Board of Management for Victoria Manor, and so knows something of aging seniors’ needs. Doug is mid-70s, rates his fitness level as 5 on a 1 to 10 scale. He’s on the go most days and he golfs, but not as often as he’d like.

The physiotherapist, Khosrow Yazdani, is 60. He’s worked for the Central East LHIN making home visits to individuals to do home safety assessments, and provides therapy to individuals who’ve had hip and knee replacements, falls and fractures, strokes and other medical issues. He estimates 65% of those he’s visited have been seniors. Khosrow is fit and an avid squash player, but has had herniated discs and has been doing physio and pool therapy for that.

The artist is Penni Holdham (you may have seen a 50 ft. mural she created in Bobcaygeon). Penni, who is 65, was Project Lead for the park. She came up with the idea and connected with the City of Kawartha Lakes Family Health Team to secure Trillium grant funding, and it was Penni who, after travelling to Helsinki, selected a Finnish company, Lappset for the equipment. She’s spent the past two years driving along a project that has been completed slightly earlier than scheduled and slightly under budget.

Penni, by the way, would give herself a 6 on a fitness scale. She gardens and isn’t sedentary, but says she “never embraced physical fitness.” Sometimes she uses a cane and she has a touch of arthritis.

I observe as each steps onto the well-cushioned surface (made of 2,000 recycled car tires). All of them take a child-like delight in the sponginess. They begin their exploration.

Instructions are minimal and located on a board at a slight distance, so each uses the equipment a little differently — sometimes in ways I wouldn’t have expected. At the “Torso Twist” (a circular platform atop a spring) one shifts weight side-to-side in a stepping motion, another bounces lightly and the third holds the nearby bar and does circles at the hip.

All of them conscientiously try all 13 action stations: they step through or on top of a grid of ropes, across a beam that undulates and a set of slats that swing slightly, then up and down some wooden steps; at the Wavy Worm and Snake each move a triangular ring from end to end; at “Finger Walking”, they all extend upwards from the shoulder, and at the Ballet Barre they stretch out hamstrings or lower backs.

Afterwards we sit at one of the 4-seater tables and I pose some questions. (Responses have been edited for length).

The Play Park occupies Lloyd Kelly Parkette, overlooking the falls. What do you think of the location?

Doug: It’s a beautiful spot and it’s in a central location. You can just walk in from the main street.

Khosrow:  Amazing to see the waterfalls and hear their sound in the background.

Penni: A minimally-used space has been transformed into a destination opportunity.

Overall, you seem impressed. What do you like about the Play Park?

Doug: There’s lots of variety and it’s a social, meeting space as well as a space for fitness.

Khosrow: It’s uncomplicated – friendly to use — and welcoming. There are no fees and people can come at their leisure.

Penni: Yes, it’s open 24/7 and can be used for three seasons. I like the fact that it’s adaptable: People can bring their bodies and stretch, bend, and flex in ways their bodies allow. It’s also very safe: the equipment meets — in fact exceeds — safety standards for children’s playgrounds (the Z614 standards).

Can you pick out a component you particularly enjoyed using?

Doug: The Hip Twist. Swivelling on it loosened up my hips and lower back.

Khosrow: I liked that one, too. I also liked the Torso twist. It’s like the “wobble board” you’d find in a gym but a little harder.

Penni: The Swing Bridge was fun. Half-way across I tried balancing without holding the rails.

Anything you’d like to see added or changed?

Doug: Someone the other day mentioned bocce as a possible use for the bit of unused space.

Khosrow: Right now the guide to the stations isn’t close to the equipment itself. I’d like to see the final version of this signage moved closer.

Penni: A bike rack is going to be added, along with a message center for posting information on local events, and a dog-waste receptacle. Mounting chess boards on the tables was a great idea, but I’m planning to improve the design (right now it’s too much of a stretch to reach the far side of the board). Addition? It would be fun to have a swing.

It’s designed as a play park for seniors (who make up fully 50% of the Fenelon Falls population).  How will it be of use to an aging population?

Doug: Protecting against falls is critical for seniors. I notice there are a number of activities for stability and balance.

Khosrow: Falls prevention is #1. The action stations would also help seniors improve or at least maintain flexibility, range of motion, and endurance.  

Penni: The equipment has applications for lots of daily activities — hanging up a coat, playing piano, opening a jar. It might help seniors stay in their homes longer.

You all agree that it could be enjoyed by almost anyone. Could you give a couple of examples?

Doug: Young kids could have a great time on the soft surface, tumbling around and doing somersaults and there are a number of walking groups in Fenelon Falls that could make the park a stop.

Khosrow: There are also features that ensure it meets the needs of the differently-abled — those in wheelchairs, for example.

Penni: The open, cushioned space could be used for stretching, yoga, or tai chi.

Will you, personally, be using the Play Park?

Doug: Scheduling is a challenge but I can see myself using it from time to time, especially if I’ve been sedentary for a while.

Khosrow: Probably not. I live in Lindsay but I will recommend to all my patients to use the stations as able.

Penni: Yes, I’ll be using it regularly. I’ll come here to work on my joints and stretch out as needed. Maybe I can do this instead of paying an acupuncturist.

Any final thoughts or comments?

Doug: I’m proud that we’re supporting our residents — especially older residents — in staying active and engaged in our community.

Khosrow:  You should use common sense if you’re using the action stations and use them in ways that are appropriate for you. If you have medical conditions you might want to talk to your family physician first.  

Penni: This might be a model for other communities. I’ve been getting calls from around the City of Kawartha Lakes and from elsewhere.

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