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FOR SENIORS : Businesswoman Takes Physical Fitness to Heart

July 03, 1994|LINDA FELDMAN

Melba Autry is a motivator. But one of the things that separates her from people who preach the "right" way to live is that she is her own best client. Just look at her: She's lean, spirited, healthy and disciplined. And that's what the 63-year-old Santa Monica resident wants to pass on to other senior citizens.

So two years ago she started Senior Leisure Activities, a business that makes fitness videos for seniors that are shown on a local cable TV channel.

She started the business, she said, because she believes that physical well-being goes a long way toward emotional well-being. She keeps her advice sound by reading everything she can about fitness and the older person.

Autry's business card says, "let us bring fun into your life." And her idea of fun is walking, biking, bowling, fishing, swimming or any other activity that a person, once encouraged, could have fun doing on his or her own.

"Everyone needs encouragement. You have to have a goal, keep your eye on it and work toward it," Autry said.

A licensed vocational nurse, Autry is in training for the 1995 Senior Olympics in San Antonio, Tex. She practices sprints every day at 6 a.m. at the Santa Monica College track and runs 100 meters in 18 seconds (the record for women in Autry's age group is 15.49).

She swims three times a week and has been lifting weights for 10 years. And in addition to these activities, she often gets on her bicycle and rides a few miles.

Autry gets encouragement from her sons and her mettle from her mother.

She grew up in a strict household in Chicago. Her mother, a schoolteacher, died when Melba was 12. Her father was an auto mechanic.

"My mother would have been called a feminist if she were alive. She was strong, always after my sister and me, especially the way we spoke. I had to walk like a lady, couldn't wear shorts, went to church three times a week. But most of all it was the speech. She thought we were a little better than anyone else because we spoke English well," Autry said.

She admits that she resented her mother for being strict, especially with table manners. Autry wanted to be ordinary. "Now I value it. I brought my sons up that way," she said.

Autry divorced when she was 50. She raised her boys to believe they could do anything. Earl, 42, is an attorney; Morris, 34, owns his own video company and teaches part time at UCLA, and David, 33, is a computer technician for UCLA Medical Center's liver transplant department.

It was Morris who encouraged her to extend her business and make the videos, through which Autry and guests offer tips in a talk-show format.

Autry said she has always believed that it's never too late to learn anything or to get in shape. She specializes in motivating people.

"First, a person has to decide that they need help or encouragement. Next, you need someone in your life who says, 'Let's do it'--someone who has your interests at heart. Many older people are alone or have family members who wouldn't think of calling up to say, 'Let's go bike riding.' That's where I come in," she said.

Autry thinks good exercise habits can take the place of bad ones, but it takes close to two months for a good habit to become part of your life.

"I'm not a trainer. I just start people off, in moderation, doing something which is fun and healthy. Some people need nine months of encouragement. The older you get, the more depressed you get sitting around wondering about all the things that aren't right in life. Exercising gives you a feeling of 'all-rightness.' Life isn't doom and gloom unless you say it is," she said.

When an Olympic athlete wins a medal, reporters sometimes ask what they are going to do next. Although the Senior Olympics is a year off, Melba Autry has her answer: "I want to be the Oprah Winfrey of the senior set."

She certainly has the right training.

Melba Autry's "Senior Fitness" video can be seen July 12 on Century Cable channel 3. Check local schedule for time. Information: (310) 289-3293.

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