June 19, 2017
Ojibwe Woman Proves it’s Never Too Late to Get Fit
By: Diverse Elders

By Barb Norbeck.  Ms. Norbeck (Minnesota Chippewa Tribe) is a member of the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) and lives in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. This post originally appeared on the NICOA blog.

Barb Norbeck, age 73 working up a sweat at the Dena’ina Wellness Center on the Kenai Peninsula.

I don’t let cold weather stand between me and exercise. I enjoy pulling on my cleated hiking boots, grabbing my walking sticks and taking a brisk walk on an icy sand beach on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. It does something for my spirit. I can enjoy it now at age 73 because I have the muscle mass and tone to extend myself. I can actually work up a sweat! I credit my positive attitude and agility to a variety of reasons. I believe in exercise. I just wasn’t applying it to my best benefit when I was younger.

When I remember my mom, she was always busy doing; taking care of a large family, gardening, cooking, canning, cleaning and teaching us kids how to care for a home. After mom had time for herself she went to work outside of the home. She was never one to do formal exercise programs, but she would walk after dinner, before dinner, before settling down for her alone time, or before going to bed. Mom was my biggest motivator.

While I worked until retirement at the age of 65, I usually managed to push away from my desk to exercise. I knew I had to get the blood flowing occasionally during my mostly sit-down day job. Another motivator was that I had some physical issues which made me realize that it was incumbent on me to do something about.

I joined a community wellness program run by the Kenaitze Tribe at their Dena’ina Wellness Center on the Kenai Peninsula. I have been a member there for well over a decade, attending classes three times a week. Through the program I gained not only motivation and physical strength, but also sustained commitment to fitness and a deeper sense of self.

In my early 60s, I was carrying close to 200 pounds on my 5-foot frame. After two falls which led to fractures on both my wrists, a bone scan revealed the early stages of osteoporosis. My physician was ready with the prescription pad, but I said “no.” I knew exercise and diet were more likely to give back my zest for outdoor activity.

The wellness program was what I needed. I lost more than 60 pounds through guided diet and exercise. What the Kenazite program offered to me was phenomenal. Really life changing. I have 5 grandchildren who are very active – swimming, skiing, hockey, and snowshoeing. My husband and I want to continue to do things with them for many years to come.

The program also gave me the tools to set new priorities. Growing up as one of 11 children in a hardworking Ojibwe Native family, I am a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Fond du Lac Band, Cloquet, Minnesota. I learned early on to set others needs before my own. Part of my health journey has been to come to a better understanding of my Native culture and becoming a role model for other women who are like me and think like me.

My reason for telling this story is to help inspire and motivate others. It is never too late to consider investing in your own health. Regardless of where you are in your physical and emotional journey -take those tiny steps. Keep going. Join a group, stay involved, stay positive. There are fabulous programs in all of our Native health programs. Seek them out. Ask questions. Reach out to all ages. I know if I could accomplish these health goals, others can as well. Good luck!


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.