When people have excuses for why they can’t exercise, Kerry Carithers, just points out Anton Reel Jr.
“I just say, ‘If he can do it, you can do it,’” said Carithers, the senior membership and wellness director at the Forsyth County Family YMCA.
Reel, 93, was celebrated during an event Wednesday for being the oldest active member of the facility in Vickery Village.
His daughter, Linda, with whom he lives, drives him to the facility three times a week.
“I bring him over here around 3:30 in the afternoon and he stays until 7 or 8 o’clock,” she said.
Not only does he spend the majority of those three or four hours doing aerobics and lifting weights, he doesn’t cheat when going from the facility’s lobby to the gym areas.
“My most impressive thing about him is … he always takes both flights of stairs,” Carithers said. “He never takes an elevator, and that’s a workout in itself. It takes him a while, but he refuses to take the elevator, and that’s just so inspiring to me.”
Reel has been an active member of the local YMCA since it opened in February 2006. He and his wife, Louise, came regularly to exercise together before she passed away in 2009.
Prior to the center’s opening, the pair, who were together for nearly seven decades, worked out for three years at the Alpharetta YMCA after moving to the area in 2003 from Jacksonville, Fla.
Forsyth YMCA employees surprised Reel with the party Wednesday, where they presented him with a plaque in honor of being the club’s oldest member at “93 years young.”
They also surprised him with a visit from his oldest son, Anton Reel III, who drove from Baton Rouge, La.
Jackie Johnson, the YMCA’s financial development coordinator, said everyone was happy to honor the elder Reel, a World War II Navy veteran who later worked as an oral surgeon until retiring at age 69.
“We’re happy to celebrate [you] for the example that you set for everybody here at the Y to know that if they keep exercising and keep a positive attitude, they can live a very long and very happy life,” Johnson said.
Maintaining a rigorous physical fitness routine has been a lifelong habit for Reel.
He said when he was a teenager and young adult, he would wake in time to be on the track at 5:15 a.m. every day, rain or shine, to run five miles.
He’s also been an avid weightlifter most of his life. In fact, he was named Mr. New Orleans in the 1944 Louisiana State Bodybuilding Championships. And in the late 1950s, he was named an honorary football coach at Louisiana State University.
Another son, Ed C. Reel, said his father received the honorary title because he spent many years volunteering with the program, working with the players in the weight room.
“He was probably one of the first people in college football to understand the importance of weightlifting,” the younger Reel said.
He was also the first bodybuilder inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. At 86, he was also its oldest inductee.
Reel’s passion for weightlifting continues today.
He’s won several titles from the United States Association of Power Lifters, despite the fact that he didn’t start competing with it until the mid-1980s, when he was in his 60s.
Reel’s daughter, Linda, said her father and mother inspired all of their five children to exercise as a way to stay healthy.
“When we moved here from Jacksonville in 2003, the first thing we did before we found a hairdresser or even a doctor or anything, the first thing we said was, ‘Where should we go to work out?,’” she said. “That was No. 1.”
Her brother Ed, who was living in the Alpharetta area, steered them toward the YMCA.
“My younger brother … said forget everything else, just go to the Y,” she said.
During Wednesday’s ceremony, Reel attributed his long life to keeping in good shape, but more so to finding true love.
He said he was engaged two other times before he married his wife, and he encouraged the audience to make sure they find the perfect one before settling down.
“She’s the reason I turned out like I did,” he said.
He also encouraged his fellow YMCA members to do all they can to stay healthy for as long as possible.
“The most important thing in life is your health,” he said. “Without your health, you can’t do a damn thing. It’s so important.
“Right now at 93, I feel like I’m 40 or 50 years old. All my systems are functioning as they should and the only thing is I don’t have my wife. That’s the only thing.”