After people go into retirement, many spend their days volunteering or relaxing. But for a growing group of local senior citizens, their days often are spent at the Legacy Foundation Chris-Town YMCA, practicing the martial art of Tai Chi Chuan.

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that originated thousands of years ago by a Taoist priest. It was originally used as a form of self-defense, but in recent years it’s used as a less-strenuous and low-impact exercise.

Practicing the art of "Kung Fu Fan" are Tai Chi Chuan students, from left: Kay Martens, Mandy Patel, Barbara Spear, Cathy Chung, and her husband, Albert, who teaches the class Thursday afternoons at the Chris-Town YMCA (photo by Teri Carnicelli).

Practicing the art of “Kung Fu Fan” are Tai Chi Chuan students, from left:
Kay Martens, Mandy Patel, Barbara Spear, Cathy Chung, and her husband, Albert, who teaches the class Thursday afternoons at the Chris-Town YMCA
(photo by Teri Carnicelli).

The Chris-Town Y began offering Tai Chi classes in 2012 and they quickly became popular with all age groups. Tai Chi is an activity that is structured for every age and every body type, according to the instructor Albert Chung.

“I teach three Tai Chi Chuan classes: a beginner class on Tuesday and Thursday morning, and an advanced class on Tuesday afternoon,” Chung said. “Yang style, long form, slow set, and fast set are taught in the beginner class and various weapons—fan, cane and sword—in the advanced class.”

Chung said that the class attendance continues to grow and it now totals more than 20 participants. He said he is excited about the growth, especially since teams from the Chris-Town Y participated in the 2013 senior Olympics.

One of the members who went to the 2013 Senior Olympics was 93-year-old Barbara Spear, who was a member of “Team Three Treasures” at the Olympics. She began doing Tai Chi 26 years ago in Scottsdale and she continues to practice and learn the martial art at the Chris-Town Y every Tuesday afternoon.

“I attend once a week, with Albert as my instructor for ‘Kung Fu Cane’ and ‘Kung Fu Fan’,” Spear says.

Spear explains that she began doing Tai Chi as a source of relaxation and exercise when she worked as an executive secretary for 20 years. She continues to practice Tai Chi every day and even competed in the 2012 and 2013 Senior Olympics that are held in Arizona each year.

“Performing Tai Chi at the Senior Olympics was a gratifying experience for all of us as it required the training and focus, which was a challenge for all,” Spear says.

The Senior Olympics are held each year in February and March throughout various cities in Arizona. Tai Chi was a popular event and the Chris-Town YMCA sent four teams to the 2013 Olympics and three of the teams placed. Spear’s team received a gold medal at the Olympics for their performance of “Kung Fu Cane.”

Lynn Wiletsky, 67, also practices Tai Chi Chuan at the Chris-Town Y and participated in the 2013 Senior Olympics on a separate team than Spear did. She was a member of “Team Y Qi,” which received a bronze medal. She began doing Tai Chi in 2012 and absolutely loves it.

“Tai Chi is for people of all ages and physical condition,” Wiletsky points out. “My inspiration comes from watching a 93-year-old woman move with grace and strength while competing on teams that wielded weapons! What an achievement,” she says of fellow practitioner Spear.

Spear has definitely earned the title as an inspiration after competing and winning at the 2013 Senior Olympics but she says that Tai Chi itself inspires her.

“It is my energy, health, patience, balance, focus and so many other things that help keep me grounded in day-to-day life,” Spear said. “You can see by my age that I attribute the benefits of Tai Chi for a good share of my 93 very happy years.”

Classes are free for YMCA members and $20 for non-members, per class. For more information about the Legacy Foundation Chris-Town YMCA, visit or call 602-242-7717.

Editor’s note: Anastasia Reynolds is a journalism student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University’s downtown campus.


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