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Campus Life

Three-generations strong: the Nellis family & StrongWomen

NellisOn an April evening in the basement of the University of Montana Western's Swysgood Technology Center, three generations of women gather for a StrongWomen workout.

The fitness program has become somewhat of a family tradition for Lucille, Phyllis and Jeanette Nellis. It provides them with a social outlet as well as a workout that fits the varied ability levels of the three family members. Jeanette is 43 years old, her mom Phyllis is 69 years old and Phyllis' mom Lucille is 98 years old.

StrongWomen is a science-based strength training program for adult women of all ages, including middle-age and older individuals. According StrongWomen founder Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., the program is designed “to improve the health and well-being of women throughout the United States and abroad by increasing access to structured, safe, and effective strength training programs.”

The class at Montana Western was introduced to the Dillon community in fall 2010 by UMW faculty member Cheryl Juergens, Ph.D., who is a certified StrongWomen instructor. The class is offered through the UMW School of Outreach.

"As I've gotten older, I've seen people get lethargic and stay home and feel sorry for themselves," Lucille says. "I said to myself, 'I'm not going to do that.'"

Juergens says she has seen Lucille's strength and balance improve since Lucille began attending StrongWomen earlier in the spring.

"I can see an increase in Lucille’s overall fitness," Juergens says. "The strength training exercises, which focus on full range of motion in combination with the stretching portion of the program, have also contributed to her improved flexibility and coordination."

Juergens says the strength-training exercises allow women to work out at their individual fitness and strength level. The program also has a progressive overload focus that provides an opportunity for continued improvement.

For Lucille, the StrongWomen program is about staying active as well as spending time with her daughter and granddaughter.

"As I've gotten older, I've seen people get lethargic and stay home and feel sorry for themselves," Lucille says. "I said to myself, 'I'm not going to do that.'"

A native of Havilind, Kan., Lucille raised eight children including Phyllis. Keeping up with the family was a full-time job and kept the busy mother on her toes, which is partially why she doesn't bat an eye exercising at 98 years old.

"I've always had to be very active and on my feet," Lucille adds.

Jeanette first attended StrongWomen at Montana Western in fall 2012 and Phyllis joined in January of this year. They both enjoyed the program and felt real benefits in their health. It soon became apparent to them that somebody was missing from their weekly workout.

"We decided grandma shouldn't sit alone on exercise night," Phyllis remembers.

Jeanette says the family's new routine is a win-win.

"It's nice to know she is active and is participating and getting involved," Jeanette says of her grandma. "We get to spend two hours of class together each week doing something we enjoy and that's good for our health."

For more information on the StrongWomen program at Montana Western, contact the School of Outreach at (406) 683-7537 or e-mail