Pumping Iron with Grandma: That’s how I got this body

Fitness instructor Bonnie Oliver of Maple Grove enlists the support of her family and friends to provide moral and physical encouragement. She’s surrounded by, from left, Peter Villagomez Jr., Peter Villagomez Sr., Areanna Villagomez, Paul Herskind, Felicia Vill and Dre Oliver.

Bonnie Oliver was riding the bus to meet her boyfriend one day 15 years ago when she noticed a $99-for-three-months special at the Uptown YWCA. Although she’d been active as a young girl, she weighed 200 pounds at the time, so she hopped off the bus and signed up. That decision sparked a new level of fitness — and, eventually, a new career. Now 60, Oliver works full time at the Y as a personal trainer and instructor of Body Pump, aerobics, yoga, Silver Sneakers and cycling. In her spare time, she pumps iron and shoots hoops with her grandchildren.

DESSERT IS FOR SUNDAYS “There were seven kids in my family, so my mom and dad would always say, ‘You’re all going outside!’ We played basketball, football, we went ice skating, we went to the pool, you name it. My father was a chef — he worked at the Foshay Tower, Murray’s, all over the place — and he taught us how to cook. We ate pretty healthy. There wasn’t any soda in the house. ‘You don’t need that stuff,’ he’d say. We had dessert once a week.”


SEW LONG, CARPAL TUNNEL “I went to vocational trade school to be a tailor and seamstress. I worked at Dayton’s and Neiman Marcus and had my own shop, and then I worked for Lossing Orthopedics, doing a lot of sewing and steelwork. I got carpal tunnel and at therapy they told me, ‘If you keep that up you’ll have to have surgery.’ ”


PUMPED UP “I signed up for the Y, and that’s when Body Pump was starting. It took me eight months to lose the weight. After a while the supervisor said, ‘You need to start teaching classes.’ I said, ‘No way.’ But she pointed out I’d be getting paid to stay in shape, and she offered to pay half the [course certification] fee. So I came in and got certified. I’ve been doing it ever since. I also went to Minnesota School of Business for personal training, and now I do personal training, aerobics, cycling, yoga, Total Stretch and I’m going for my Pilates [certification]. When my hours started picking up at the Y, I gave two weeks’ notice at my other job. This is what I love doing. Body Pump is still my favorite. Well, I mix them up, so they’re all my favorite. It’s good to do some cross-training.”


EATING THE RAINBOW “I also watch my diet; my trick is to stay away from white flour, white sugar and white rice. Every once in a while I treat myself to something fried. But mostly I eat three small meals, with two or three snacks in between and lots of fresh fruits and veggies.”


SHOWING OFF GRANDMA “All three of my grandkids play sports. When I’m at their house, they’ve got workout equipment in the basement and my 19-year-old grandson always asks me to lift with them. I can’t out-bench them anymore; my grandson can lift 220 and I get up to 150 or 160. I tell them to start now. It’ll pay off. Then you won’t have all these problems like diabetes and high blood pressure.”


NEVER TOO OLD “I still feel young. My grandmother was a health fanatic, too. She walked and rode her bike all over town in her 70s and grew her own vegetables. I remember her doing crunches and sit-ups. She was 96 when she died. I used to say, ‘Grandma, you’re too old to exercise.’ And she said, ‘You’re never too old to exercise.’ ”


  • by: SHEILA MULROONEY ELDRED/Minnapolis Star Tribune