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Beverley Burdeyney: What I wanted at 30 is not what I necessarily want at 75

Beverley Burdeyney is photographed in a client’s home gym on March 1, 2016.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Beverley Burdeyney

Personal fitness trainer, volunteer and 75-year-old bubbe.

The first thing I do when I wake up is thank God for waking up. It's a Jewish prayer. Then I get started, going to the kitchen where I make my special drink and start to exercise. I usually do three-quarters of an hour or an hour of a variety of exercises and then I'm out the house on demand.

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I've lived all my life in pain. I have a major congenital condition, spina bifida, [as well as] scoliosis, and one leg is shorter than the other. There are days when I can't stand, so I know what it takes to get a body in order. No one knows I have all these health issues. I'm a walking miracle.

I work mainly in people's homes. I see them twice a week, sometimes three times. One of my clients was a man who had a stroke when he was 37 and was dragging his right side. I worked with him for over 30 years. That's the type of clientele I have. My main clients are professionals with a demanding career and young families requiring attention. I've also had disabled children as clients. My oldest client was maybe 84. I average between four and six clients a day. I used to see between eight and 10. I've cut down so I no longer work until 10 o'clock at night.

If you watch older people walk, they walk like apes with bent knees and long shoulders. They aren't using their bodies correctly. They tippy toe and then lose their balance and break things. Pelvic girdle stability, or core stability, is really the focus of my work. I believe in making your body work for you instead of against you. People take for granted that they will never get old and run into health issues. They live in la-la land.

In my days, it was who you married that counted. Women went to university for an MRS degree. Over 30 years ago, I was the executive director for an international dental firm out of Kyoto, Japan, and I travelled extensively internationally. It was a man's world. I was a woman ahead of my time. I was divorced. My daughter was getting married and my fiancé at the time was dying. I didn't want to be [away from] Toronto, so I decided to leave the corporate world and become an exercise coach. I knew I had a good product to sell and I never looked back.

I always felt I was properly paid for my work. Even today, I'm still well paid. Once, I confronted the owner of a dental firm where I was the Ontario sales manager. If a sales person reached their quota and had further sales, they got an additional 2 per cent. The sales personnel were all men. They got their bonuses but I was not extended the same courtesy. I stormed into the office of the male president of the firm and said why hasn't this happened to me? So I got it. It's as simple of that. If you know your worth, you ask for it.

Most people don't believe my age. I'd like to convey a message to people that you can prolong your life and have a happier life if you accept that life is more important than food.

There is no secret. Live a balanced life. I've been a hands-on bubbe for my four grandchildren; my youngest is 15 and the oldest is 23. I've done a lot of volunteer work in my community. I love the ballet, concerts and the theatre. I go to the Shaw and Stratford and see all the latest movies. I'm a lover of nature. I go canoeing and kayaking every summer. There is still nothing more enjoyable than being on a boat and seeing a fish jumping out of the water.

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What I wanted at 30 is not what I necessarily want at 75. You need to experiment with life. Allow yourself to be a thinker. I've learned a lot in life because of this career of who people really are, not their public face. It's a beautiful experience. I've done a lot but I have so much more to do. I still think I have a couple of hurrahs left.

As told to Leah Eichler. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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