Having a Ball with Sally Kuledge

Sally Kuledge is the life of the party at the Newport-Mesa Family YMCA, where for 25 years she has taught fitness classes for active older adults.
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

“My mantra is: fitness, friendship, and frivolity,” says Kuledge, who at age 88 takes multiple exercise classes each week on top of the six she teaches. In addition to deep-water aerobics, Kuledge instructs older adults in a chair exercise program she developed with a focus on rhythm, balance, and strength. “Although it’s a chair program, we get up and down and we use weights, balls, and bands. These people are incredible. They come in at 7:15 in the morning. We have three gals in their 90s, and they are so full of pep.”

Kuledge grew up in northern Minnesota where, she quips, “if you didn’t move, you froze to death.” A self-described tomboy, she climbed trees, rode bikes, and jumped into lakes. Her proclivity for athletics shaped her career path. She earned a degree in recreational leadership at the University of Minnesota in 1956. “It was a fairly new program. My best friend was a cheerleader there, and she convinced me to enroll. And we were around jocks all the time, which was an attractive feature.”

After moving to California and working in recreation centers in cities such as Huntington Park, Oakland, and Hermosa Beach, Kuledge went on to teach skiing in Utah. “I was written up in Ski magazine for starting the first all-female ski class—I called it the Ladybirds at Snowbird. It was for timid ladies whose husbands would drag them to the top of the mountain and then they’d start crying. So I’d say, ‘Gentlemen, I’ll take care of your ladies for you.’”

“One gal who’s 93 had a fall, but she’s back. I put on the Village People, and we march around. She’s slower, but she gets up and does it.”

Having returned to California to work at the Torrance YMCA, Kuledge eventually found her perfect fit at the Newport-Mesa facility. “This one is incredible. So friendly and open. My deep-water class—we call them the mermaids—and every month they have a potluck at someone’s house. And now they’ve started playing water polo. These people are in their late 70s!” Her goal for every class is for everyone to leave happier than when they came in.


“For my land class, we practice agility, coordination, and speed. We do the hokey pokey, the bunny hop. We have balls that we use for bouncing, rolling, squeezing between your legs. And we have a big bucket we keep them in. Well, one of the ladies brought a spare bucket in so that at the end of class, everyone tries to make a basket with their ball. It’s a real upper, I think.”

Though she’s had a hip replacement and two shoulder replacements, Kuledge isn’t ready to slow down anytime soon. “I’m not as adept as I wish I were, but I just do what I can do.” Her commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed, and Kuledge says she’s recognized wherever she goes. “Somebody yelled at me at church the other day, ‘Oh you’re Sally from the Y!’ I’m like a trademark. I think they should pay me to go in public and advertise. But I do it because I really get joy out of making people happy. They look forward to coming to my classes, and we crack jokes and have a lot of fun. If I’m ever down, I just have to go down there and see the people.”

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