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Monday, March 13, 2000

Tally Ho! Lee Blears: Making her moves at 81

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Lee Blears, above, leads an aerobics class at Waianae
Recreation Center. Blears has been showing her students
how to stay healthy for 22 years.

Octogenarian dispenses wit and
wisdom with Waianae workouts

By Rod Ohira


Aerobics instructor Lee Blears wraps up a 90-minute session with stretching exercises, some humor and a thought for the day.

"Must be jelly because jam doesn't shake like that," she tells her class, drawing smiles.

As a parting thought, she says, "A kind word never gets lost. It goes person to person and finally gets back to you."

If it sounds like the wisdom that comes with age, perhaps it is.

Blears, the wife of former professional wrestler Lord James "Tally Ho" Blears, is 81 years old. But she is a remarkably fit and witty octogenarian, and an inspirational model of how good health affects a person's outlook.

Blears has always taken care of her body -- "If you don't use it, you'll lose it" is another of her favorite lines -- and through aerobics, she has been teaching others on the Waianae Coast to get healthy for 22 years.

Her students are enthusiastic.

"Lee's classes are something I look forward to," said 73-year-old Alice Trani of Maili, who has been attending the Monday, Wednesday and Friday sessions at Waianae District Park gym for 18 years.

"She's great, so accommodating. If I stop now, I know my body will go downhill."

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Angie Dacoscos holds her 6-month-old baby, Tela,
while doing aerobics in Lee Blears' class, where
participants range in age from 25 to 84.

Elesa Padua, 69, and Adeline Mandac, 65, joined the class last fall.

Padua said she used to see her doctor almost every week for lower back pain, but no longer does.

"I was 269 pounds when I started in September," she said. "I have lost 10 pounds and now I can keep up with the class. Nothing can make me stay home to miss my exercise now."

Mandac, who has two great-grandchildren, lost 20 pounds since she began and said her whole outlook has changed.

She completed the Aloha Fun Run in February "even though the last two miles were tough for me," and feels "excellent."

"It's an incentive when you have an 81-year-old instructor," Mandac said. "You feel if she can do it, I can do it."

Blears instructs about 30 people, ranging in age from 25 to 84. Her classes begin at 9 a.m.

She thinks walking is a beneficial activity, but said it just strengthens the legs and heart. Older people should do more to maintain good health, and never stop being active.

"Exercise is the best thing," she said. "You're using muscle, and muscle is what keeps the body frame up. Older people need to do something like this instead of sitting down and watching TV. If your body and brain isn't working, they'll go dead."

The only men who attend regularly are Dick Darling, 76, and Tom Silva, 84. Darling said he's taken three inches off his waist since starting 2 years ago.

"When you feel younger, you start thinking you look younger, too," he said.

"Lee makes it so easy. She always tells the newcomers to do what they can, or sit and watch until they're ready to start. You never feel any pressure to keep up but once you've been here for a while, you want to keep up."

Silva, who has had two heart bypass surgeries, joined 18 months ago with his wife, Nani, 76. Both are concerned about keeping their cholesterol and blood pressure levels under control.

"This has really been good for me," he said.

"Around Waianae, there aren't many exercise programs. In most senior programs, you mostly sit down and do craft work. At our age, you need some kind of exercise for the whole body that's not strenuous."

Activity has always been a vital part of life for Leonora "Lee" (Caracciolo) Blears, who was born in New York City on Sept. 2, 1918, the youngest of eight children and the only one still living.

"I was always aware of being fit and healthy," said Blears, who grew up playing a lot of tennis.

She met her husband, now 77, at a Long Island beach, where he was a lifeguard. The couple celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary on Feb. 22.

"She's had to keep up with me; I've been chasing her around for 53 years," he kidded, when asked how his wife keeps so fit.

Blears said she jogged, swam and bicycled to stay in shape while her husband wrestled professionally. She also learned to "eat right."

"The three things you've got to watch out for are sugar, fats and salt," she said. "We eat a lot of chicken and fish, occasionally a leg of lamb. I eat vegetables and fruits at least three times a day."

After their third visit to Hawaii, the couple sold their California home and moved here in 1955.

While her husband wrestled, Lee worked as a resident manager at Hawaiian King Hotel. In the late 1950s, she was hired by Timmy Leong to manage the women's division of his gym but found the training, mostly with light weights, "boring."

The Blearses both enjoyed surfing, and their move to Makaha 31 years ago was a dream come true. It came about the time the benefits of aerobic exercise were becoming widely known.

"When aerobics with music started, it gave us a chance to cover every part of the body," said Blears, who went to work for Great Shape Figure Salon in Waipahu in 1971.

She began teaching in Waianae when the gym opened in 1978.

Physical activity seems to be a family trait. They have four children -- Jimmy, 51; Laura, 50; Carol Arreola, 48; and Clinton, 41 -- and two grandsons.

Jimmy and Laura have both won world surfing championships, and both daughters teach aerobics: Laura on Maui, where her son Dylan Ching played in this year's Hula Bowl; and Carol on Kauai.

Blears believes exercise slows the aging process -- and some of her students hope so.

Angie Dacoscos, 31, who gave birth to her fifth child six months ago, was interested in finding an exercise class and heard about Blears through a flier.

"We've got a history of heart disease and diabetes in our family so I want to make sure that I'm healthy now that I'm over 30," she said.

"When I see Lee, I know that's how I want to be when I'm at that age. It takes motivation and self-discipline to do what she has done."

Blears gives back to the class most of the $1-a-session fees she collects -- in door prizes, achievement awards for improved body measurements, and "luncheons, excursions and a Christmas party."

She plans to teach for as long as she can.

"I don't feel any older than I did when I started," she said. "I'm going to do this until I die.

"The class is like my family. They make me happy and I feel good when I'm with them."

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