By Scott Hammers • The Bulletin

On Monday morning, Honey Canney marked her birthday by teaching a water aerobics class at Bend Golf & Country Club.

Two days later, on Wednesday, she was back at it, leading a class of seven through the movements, and Friday, she’ll be doing the same.

Though not as fearless as the mountain bike riders who bomb down Phil’s Trail on a carbon fiber steed or as gritty as the multisport athletes who crack the two-hour barrier during each spring’s Pole Pedal Paddle, Canney and her athletic prowess are notable in a city full of notable athletes.

That’s because Canney is 101.

Three times a week, Canney catches a ride to the club from her home at Whispering Winds retirement community to the private club in southeast Bend, where she’s led classes for almost 40 years.

As a teenager, Canney was swimming at a public pool in Seattle when a boy leaped off the high dive, landing on top of her. Years of back problems followed. They were so severe that by 21, doctors advised her she should be prepared to spend much of her life in a wheelchair.

Some decades later while living in Southern California, Canney had managed to avoid the wheelchair, but suffered from constant pain. Her husband would carry her from their car to her chiropractor’s office. “I can’t live like this anymore,” she recalled thinking to herself, shortly before she followed up on a friend’s suggestion that she look in to water aerobics.

Pain-free for the first time in years, she was a near-instant convert.

In the 1970s, Canney and her husband moved to Bend to retire, and she went looking for a water aerobics class in her new hometown. Finding nothing, she started doing her exercises on her own in the then-newly built pool at Bend Golf & Country Club. Having never seen such a thing, her friends around the club “thought I’d lost my ever-loving mind,” Canney said.

She persisted, and in time, others joined her in the pool. Soon her personal exercise regimen became a regular class at the club.

“I had no intention of teaching any class at all. I was just refreshing my own memory so I’d do the right program, the right exercises with the right muscles,” she said.

Canney said she feels better today physically than she did when she was 21. Her eyesight has failed in recent years — she complains she can’t see well enough to butter a slice of toast — but if not for her vision, Canney said she’d have no difficulties living on her own.

Regular students at Canney’s class said its both inspirational and a little intimidating to try to keep up with a woman old enough to be their mother.

Linda Ripsch, at 64 the youngest student present Wednesday, said Canney’s positivity is contagious.

“We always have a really great time. She keeps us going and has a big happy smile all the time,” Ripsch said.

Vergie Ries, 71, said she’s lost 40 pounds in a year and a half of taking Canney’s class. She said knowing Canney will be there ready to start at 9 a.m. is motivating on days when getting up and making the trip to the pool seems daunting.

“With Honey as an inspiration, it’s easy to get up in the morning and come out here,” Ries said.

Although exercise has kept her fit and alert, in her view, longevity is really more about meaningful human connections, Canney said.

“To love and be loved, that’s my credo,” she said. “If you don’t have people around you, you may as well leave this earth, because it’s just no good.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com

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