Carol Adams celebrates her birthday with a cake in the hallway without her friends.

By Ron Hammerle

Eighteen cars, 27 people, a 12-pound Havanese dog named Lilli and dozens of balloons braved rainy skies on April 16 to celebrate the 85th birthday of Carol Adams in a drive-by parade at Twin Creeks’ Assisted Living Center in Riverview.

A longtime Hillsborough County resident who less than a year ago was teaching 10 exercise classes a week at two branches of the YMCA and a local retirement community, Adams said, “I was completely overwhelmed. I never expected anything like this.”

In one sense, it was a unique tribute to someone who has taught a generation of seniors to stay fit. In another sense, it was a prime example of how millions of people around the world have been forced to create new and different ways to express their feelings and celebrate life events.

For 22 and a half years, Adams has taught ‘Silver Sneakers’ classes at the Campo and Brandon branches of the Y. Though very petite and more than two decades older than some, she wears out many of those in her classes.

Rowena Stillwagon, one of Adams’ class attendees, said, “I picked her class because I thought she looked close to my age group. The classes are plenty active—definitely not for sissies. Even my husband, who occasionally attends the class, said ‘she really put us through our paces,’ and he was drafted as a professional football player for the Philadelphia Eagles (many years ago).”

“She is one of the most popular teachers at the Campo Y,” said Judy Cheeseman, a volunteer ambassador in one of Adams’ classes. “Attendance at her classes proves her popularity. It also shows in contributions the class makes to Y each year for a banner in her name and how we have honored her on previous birthdays. It still gives me chills to recall how happy she was during the parade.”

Angela Fulgieri, the programs director for senior experience and well-being at the Campo Y, said, “Carol is truly an inspiration to our members and staff. We love her, and her participants love her.”

The classes themselves have created ongoing bonds among members. About a dozen meet every week after the Thursday morning class at a nearby Panera Bread restaurant. Birthdays are celebrated at rotating restaurants once a month, with as many as three dozen members and spouses attending. Still others travel together for bingo games and regional events.

A native of Clinton, New York, Adams moved to Florida in 1992. Until a year ago, she lived at Strawberry Ridge, just east of Valrico, where she taught fitness classes on Friday and Saturday mornings. She is the mother of four children—three daughters, who live in Florida, and a son, who lives in New York City.

When not teaching exercise classes, Adams was a passionate gardener at her previous home, filling her yard and patio with a variety of flowers and plants.

“You could see her in her yard after dark, sometimes late at night,” said a former neighbor at Strawberry Ridge, Chris Ritter.

Adams is also active in a women’s monthly Bunko group and has attended Elvis impersonator events in Tampa and nearby communities.

“Mom is very independent,” said her son, Matt, who frequently travels to Florida to assist his mother, more recently helping her sell her home and move to Twin Creeks.

Several members of the class plan to create an album of pictures from the parade. “We also plan to donate funds to create a planter at Twin Creeks for Carol and other residents who like gardening,” said Barb Hammerle, the organizer of the parade and birthday celebration.

Endia Gaffin, the activities director at Twin Creeks, said, “we look forward to working with Carol’s class in developing a space where our residents can safely pursue their gardening interests.”