Experts say an active lifestyle is essential to a long and healthy life. Just ask certified physical fitness specialist Sharon Turrentine. At 72, she is still on top of her fitness goals and helps others reach theirs through weekly “health hikes” at Garvan Woodland Gardens.
Turrentine, a former bodybuilder and honorary chairman of the Louisiana Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, has a long history in the fitness industry. Her lifelong goal has been helping women shape their ideal bodies, without gaining too much muscle. It all began in 1980 when she was watching the first Ms. Olympia bodybuilding competition and eating a frozen Snickers bar.
“I had never exercised before, but I turned to my husband anyway and told him I was going to do that,” she said. That was at 36, the age when many women experience a downward spiral in their physique. Sharon was determined to turn her life around, and the next day she went to the gym.
She maintained a strict regimen she developed herself, and eventually, she started entering body-building competitions. When she began to notice the sport was taking a direction she didn’t agree with, she stopped competing and began training others.
While competing, Turrentine noticed information pertaining to women’s fitness was sparse. She wanted to streamline the journey to achieving healthy body goals by creating a detailed and easy to follow manual. She handcrafted an entire program around her personal journey and research and marketed it to women from ages 14 to 81. She calls it a soft approach to a hard body.
“If you can control your personal level of fitness, then you can control other aspects of your life you wouldn’t even imagine possible,” she said.
Today, Turrentine is an avid volunteer at Garvan Woodland Gardens. Each Monday morning, for the past four years, Sharon meets a group in the visitor’s center at Garvan, and they depart for their hike at 9 a.m. sharp.
Sharon is extremely familiar with the gardens, having been hiking there for the past 25 years. Each week, she takes the group on a different path, of varying difficulty, for an hourlong hike.
It isn’t uncommon for her to lead the group on one of the lesser-known routes in the garden. She was among the first to walk many of the trails as they were created.
“(The difficulty) really just depends on who shows up; I can make it a killer hike if I want,” said Turrentine. Her goal is to get the group’s blood pumping, but not so much that you can’t chat.
“We have a really good time. Right now things are blooming everywhere; it’s gorgeous,” she said. The hikes take place almost all year ‘round, rain or shine, except in July and August when the hikes are canceled to avoid the extreme heat.
Lynda Kass has been hiking with Turrentine’s group for nearly three years with her dog. “Sharon is just a lovely lady, and the group is great. (There is) always something wonderful happening at the gardens,” said Kass. She found out about the hikes in the Garvan Garden’s newsletter and has been hiking ever since. Even when she can’t make it someone in the group offers to walk her standard poodle, Sydney.
The group’s size varies each week — sometimes it’s just one person, and other times there can be up to 19. The group is very inviting and will make you feel like you’ve been hiking with them for months. People are encouraged to wear athletic clothing and no flip-flops. The garden’s variety of terrain requires some agility, and improper footwear can cause problems.
The hikes take place every Monday morning at 9 a.m. sharp until July. Admission to the gardens is $15 for nonmembers and $10 for ca- nine companions. If you’re looking for an opportunity to reach your fitness goals, the first step can very well start here.