'Fit and Fun at Fifty' online group unites participants through activities
By Carrie Ann Knauer
Dec 05, 2015 | 11:10 PM
Life changes as you age, but that doesn't mean you have to slow down or get stuck in a rut.
Four years ago, Judy Brubach found herself as an empty-nester, wanting to make more friends and be more active.
"I thought this would be a great time to branch out and find people who want to do what I want to do," she said. "I wanted to walk more and I wanted to kayak and I didn't want to do those activities alone."
Brubach, now 60, said she started looking for ways to connect with others online and found some opportunities through a group of active older adults using the website meetup.com that met in Frederick County.
But wanting to find more peers and activities closer to home, she decided to start her own Meetup group — Carroll County Fit and Fun at Fifty. Brubach said she chose Meetup because it was good at showing up at the top of the list in Google searches, plus she liked the format of the website.
"It took three or four months before we had 30 or 40 people, of which maybe 10 were going to events," she said. "In four or five months, we were on a roll. We're up to 273 members, and the variety of events that we host has grown."
Brubach, of Westminster, remains the leader of the group but has several designated event coordinators, who can also accept suggested activities from members and put them up on the website. Most weeks have at least one or two events scheduled, Brubach said, though that might slow down once winter is fully underway.
Julie Smith, 60, of Snydersburg, said she found Carroll County Fit and Fun at Fifty four years ago when she was looking for ways to get out and make friends while her husband, David Smith, was still working part time.
"I wanted to go walking, but I either had to find someone to go with or buy a dog," Julie said with a laugh. "I Googled 'hiking groups in Westminster' and Meetup popped up."
David, 67, has since retired, and the two take part in many of the Fit and Fun at Fifty activities together. This summer, they were part of a team that hiked the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail.
"We're hiking our 10 miles, but we're running into the most wonderful people and just talking to people on the trail," Julie said.
Debi Robertson, 59, of Westminster, was the event coordinator and leader of the Appalachian Trail hikes.
"We had already walked in pieces the [Northern Central Railroad] trail up to York, [Pennsylvania,] which was 41 miles, and it was very successful," Robertson said. "There was quite a few of us that are pretty good hikers, so I said, 'why don't we just do the Appalachian Trail through Maryland?' "
Robertson divided the 49-mile stretch of trail through Maryland into four sections they hiked on different occasions. The group walks about 2 to 2.5 miles per hour, she said, so each hike took about five hours, with six to eight hikers taking part on each voyage.
"The benefit for me is I've met people interested in doing challenging hikes that I enjoy doing," Robertson said. "I also do the little town walks, anywhere from 2.5 to 4 miles around Westminster, and afterwards we get coffee and get chatting and get friendships that way also."
Mike Boyle, of Finksburg, said he joined the group two years ago after his wife died and he needed motivation to get out of the house. Boyle, 67, said he knows there are a lot of activity groups for younger people, but he particularly enjoys being around his peers.
"If you try to go with those [younger] groups, you tend to run into a lot of 30-somthings that I can't keep up with," he said with a laugh. "There's some neat people in the group. And there's other people in the group with similar backgrounds who lost a spouse or a significant other."
Brubach said she loves seeing how Carroll County Fit and Fun at Fifty has taken off, and she estimates that she has met between 70 and 80 people through the activities she's taken part in.
"Even if we haven't met before, we talk … and at the end of the hour and the three-mile walk, we feel like we're old friends, and that's what I like about it," she said.