In the spring of 2001, Pete Dickinson, eventual co-founder of Winthrop Physical Therapy & Fitness as most people now know it, was providing physical therapy services out of the Riverside Avenue building now occupied by Methownet. Pete was excited about five or six pieces of gym equipment that he had recently purchased, so he reached out to uber-active Winthrop resident Terry Karro, telling her she and some friends should come try out some of the new equipment.
Terry, who had never been in a gym, told Pete, “Well that’s cool, but I don’t know how to use the equipment.”
So Pete suggested that if Terry got 10-12 people together, he’d offer a training class, twice a week, for nine weeks.
They’ve now been at it for more than 21 years. But that era is coming to an end, with OPEC — the Old People’s Exercise Class — disbanding.
Terry initially pulled together 11 people, including Susan and Stan Peterson, Nancy Tribolet, Tina and Harold Heath, Melanie and Tucker Barksdale. “I asked my good friends,” Terry says, adding that at age 50 at the time, she was “the baby” of OPEC.
“Oh, 50,” Terry sighs wistfully. (Although she spoke to me in a rare moment of down time between a three-day off-trail backpacking trip, a bike ride, and a long day hike, so it’s not really clear when the “O” in OPEC is ever going to be relevant for her.)
Out of necessity, the group started small, due to space constraints at Pete’s original spot. Pete later moved to where Methow Cycle & Sport is now located, which meant the group could add names from the wait list of people bugging them to join. Terry’s brother Bill and his wife Patty joined, as did Nick and Patty Ahlfs, who remained longtime members.
“It was a fabulous group,” Terry says. “It was so much more than fitness. It was a fabulous social structure, it was support. I had just lost my husband — this group held me up. Later Susan lost Stan, then Tina lost Harold. We were just all there for each other.”
The group extended far beyond exercise. At least once a week, the OPECers would eat dinner together after class. “When anyone had a birthday we had a party. We had picnics out at Falls Creek and other places,” Terry says. “Bob and MaryLou Ulrich were honorary members. They didn’t come to the class, but they came to all the parties.”
Terry adds that “when Doug Devin lost his wife, we suggested he join the group. Doug told us, ‘I don’t do group things.’ We told him, ‘Well we don’t either,’ so he joined us.”
“Activity-wise it was fabulous,” Terry says. “We had such great teachers — Pete, Anne Keller, Jim Erickson. When I was working and didn’t have the leisure time to go play every day, it really helped me stay strong.”
People came and went, but OPEC maintained a strong core group for more than two decades, Terry says. But the numbers have dwindled and the group has exercised its last as a unit, although given the roster of participants it’s likely that the workouts are still continuing in private. It’s a bittersweet ending.
“We exercised together and partied together and held each other up,” Terry says of OPEC’s 21-year run.