90-Year-Old Woman and D.C. Gym Inspire Each Other

November 1, 2020 by
Photo Courtesy of Balance Gym
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Balance Gym, like many others, had to pivot their programming when Washington D.C. reopened in June. For the Thomas Circle area gym, this meant offering a higher number of classes on a renovated rooftop, to give their members more room to socially-distance. 

In early October, the gym received an email from Tanya Wetenhall. 

  • “This is an odd email, but genuine. I am writing to thank your members for working out!” Wetenhall wrote on October 9. “My 90-year-old mother lives at Thomas Circle on the 8th floor facing your rooftop. Your members and trainers have inspired her before and definitely throughout the pandemic.”

One big thing: Wentenhall’s mother, 90-year-old Tessa Sollom Williams, watches the daily classes — from 7 a.m., according to The Washington Post until the last class at 7 p.m.– all day. Sollom Williams lives alone in an assisted-living facility, and the outdoor classes have been “her sole source of motivation and entertainment during the pandemic,” reports the Post. “This is what I watch,” she told the publication. 

  • “We had no idea we had such an avid fan until Tessa’s daughter reached out to us via email earlier this month,” said Devin Maier, chief executive and part-owner of Balance Gym. 

Sollom Williams is a former ballerina and occasionally tries to emulate the movements from classes, writes the Post

  • “Seeing everyone on the roof, working out, and keeping up with their routines has given her hope,” Wetenhall wrote in her email.
  •  “As a former dancer, she has exercised vigorously almost every day of her life and if she could, she would try and join the members, trust me, but she is 90 and wobbly,” Wetenhall continued. “She always comments in our calls about how hard the members worked and she is convinced that everyone must be preparing for the Olympics or some sort of performance.”

A bright spot: “Our staff was blown away by her words, as the past few months have been super difficult for us,” Maier says of Balance Gym’s response to Wentenhall’s email. “Getting such an uplifting email was completely out of the ordinary, given the current climate that we were in.”

To honor their neighbor, Balance Gym decided to paint a mural on the side of their building displaying the phrase “Keep Moving.” 

  • “One part of [Williams’] daughter’s email really resonated with us: ‘the toughest days for [her] are the rainy days, when no one is out there,’” says Maier. “The idea of the mural came out of that: we wanted to give her (and anyone else out there) something to hold on to during those dark days.”

The bottom line: The phrase is not only a message to Sollom Williams, but to Balance Gym themselves; her outlook has been an inspiration to the community. Maier, noting how easy it is to be frozen and overwhelmed in today’s climate, says that fitness has been a way for the gym community to be both a mental and physical relief. 

  • “We really wanted to hammer home the point of keeping moving and keeping positive,” he says. 

The yet-to-be completed mural project is spearheaded by a local graphic designer and a team of volunteers, all who have donated their time. Once finished, the gym is planning to have Sollom Williams and Wetenhall over for a rooftop workout. But until then, they’ll continue to be long-distance friends.  

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