Aaron Miter wasn’t sure what he was getting into the day he met Ray Bagley.
“The typical thing I have trouble with older clients is, they can’t get on and off the floor,” says Miter, a longtime personal trainer in San Diego. “So, I said to Ray, ‘Can you get on and off the floor?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah!’ He jumps off his chair, rolls over, lays on the ground, pops back up and blew me away.”
Bagley is 96. Born in the fall of 1921, he lived through the Depression — hawking newspapers in Boston as a kid to help his family — did two stints in the Civilian Conservation Corps, fought and was wounded in World War II and became president of an insurance company. Since retiring in 1979, he’s stayed busy investing in the stock market and real estate.
Bagley also has never stopped moving. He’s played tennis, swam, ran, skied, sailed, and worked out at the gym. He did walking tours in Ireland and Australia.
“I didn’t even think about it,” says Bagley of his sports and exercise. “It was just natural.”
All that motion has helped Bagley become a nonstop nonagenarian.
“Not every day does he move as quick as the day before, but some days like yesterday he had a ton of energy and was really kicking butt,” says Miter. “He’s 96 but he puts some people in their 50s, 60s and 70s to shame.”
Bagley has his troubles. He lost his wife three years ago. He’s had heart surgery. His vision is deteriorating. “I’m working out because I want to,” he says. “And I realize I’ve got to stay limber to pop up off the floor. I’ve got to keep working at doing those things rather than letting my years stop me.”
HOLDING ON TO OPTIMISM
Bagley is seated on the edge of a bench, his feet flat on the floor. His arms are extended straight ahead, a la a flying Superman. As Miter counts, Bagley pushes himself up, time after time, to a standing position and back down again. The drill, a modified squat, works his legs and core and tests his balance.
“It’s important for seniors to be able to get up and down,” says Miter.
The squats are part of a 38-minute workout on this sunny weekday morning in the gym of Bagley’s condominium complex. It starts with a 2-mile ride on the stationary bike and is followed by stretching. Then comes a series of walks through the squares of a long, flat agility “ladder.”
Bagley is asked to repeat various step patterns going forward and sideways. It helps with footwork, balance and the mental-physical connection. It encourages Bagley to lift his feet and be able to adjust — and avoid falls.
Finally, the session ends with the squats and a plank to work on Bagley’s abdominals. He’s asked to hold the plank pose several inches off a mat — weight on his forearms, back and legs straight down to his feet — for a minute. After 60 seconds, he doesn’t move. Bagley keeps the pose for a minute and 30 seconds.
“Whatever he tells me to do, I do it more than he tells me,” says Bagley.
His optimism is as fit as his body. He calls himself a happy person because he has countless reasons to see the bright side of life. He sleeps well. He has coffee with friends regularly. His daughter Karen lives just a few blocks away, so he sees her every day. “My personality was formed by what I went through,” he says.
First there was his youth in Boston, where his family struggled during the Depression. He dropped out of high school and joined the CCCs at 17, working in Wyoming and New Hampshire. He wielded a pick and shovel for a while, then a jackhammer. Eventually, he became a rod man on a survey crew. In 1940, he joined the Navy for six years. He was so light when he tried to enlist, he couldn’t make the minimum weight. He recalls leaving, drinking a gallon of water and then being accepted.
After the war broke out, he eventually became a Navy corpsman with the 4th Marine Division and saw combat in the South Pacific. He was wounded on Saipan by shrapnel, and later contracted hepatitis and dengue that kept him from the Iwo Jima campaign in which many of his friends were killed. “Actually, it was a good time except for the moments of terror,” he says. “When you first get into a landing boat . . . I couldn’t do it today.”
When the war ended, he married and eventually moved to California, where he and his wife raised two daughters. He graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara and joined his brother in the insurance business.
Now, he says he’s felt blessed.
“If you wake up on the right side of the sod, it’s a great day,” he says, recounting what a Marine general used to say. “And for a Marine that’s in combat and going from island to island, it is a great day. That’s all you need. Enjoy what you’ve got. Be happy with what you’ve got. If you can’t change it, don’t let it bother you.”
‘TAKE ONE MORE STEP’
After 96 years, Bagley has some advice for those who want to stay fit, healthy and happy as they age.
- “The first thing in the morning when you get up, drink a big glass of water.”
- “Be active. If you don’t use it, you lose it. So be active. And don’t buy trouble.”
- “Look at the good things; get rid of the bad things. Somebody that’s constantly dragging you down, don’t have anything to do with them anymore. Go with people that are positive.”
- “If you want to be enthusiastic, act enthusiastic, and pretty soon you will be.”