Small but mighty: Building strength in Longview

Long-time ChooseWell Champion Michele Geistlinger received grant funds to help keep seniors active through the pandemic. Now that residents have returned to in-person activities, she’s finding creative ways to help them not only rebuild physical strength, but reconnect to their community in meaningful ways.

By Anna Schmidt, 2023

Along Alberta’s iconic Cowboy Trail, the village of Longview sits perched on a bluff over the Highwood River. The morning sun casts light over the Black Hills, and just beyond, the stoic Rocky Mountains.

“It’s only about three blocks wide and three blocks long — but it’s beautiful,” says Michele Geistlinger, a long-time member of the community, which has just over 300 residents.

Michele is the president of the Longview ARC Society — an acronym for art, recreation and community. When she launched the organization back in 2011, it was the village’s first and only non-profit. For over a decade, ARC has run free art sessions, community events and fitness classes.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, you can find Michele at the Longview Community Hall, surrounded by a group of seniors. Country music pumps through the speakers as she leads them through strength-building exercises. However, for many months, the hall sat silent.

“With the lockdowns, it was really difficult. We tried to keep inspiring people but we didn’t use the hall for two solid years. It was locked up tight,” says Michele. 

She made it her mission to keep seniors active and healthy — with the help of Communities ChooseWell. Michele has been a Champion with the program since ARC’s inception, and applied for a $15,000 Return to Play grant through the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association, ChooseWell’s parent organization.

She received the grant, and made her first purchase — a Wifi stick that allowed her to run Zoom exercise classes for local seniors. Now, as the community has returned to in-person activities, Michele is using the remainder of the grant to run powerlifting classes and purchase new physical activity equipment.

Michele is hiring powerlifting champions from nearby Black Diamond to run three courses for seniors in the coming months. “Although many of them walk, which helps offset osteoporosis in the lower limbs, they’re not getting anything in the upper body. Powerlifting is amazing for building bone mass,” she says.

The new physical activity equipment — bosu balls, balance aids and body blades — will also help seniors rebuild strength. This is especially important in Longview, where older adults are sometimes forced to leave the community due to the fact the village has no seniors assisted living facilities, says Michele.

“I do see people are fitter. There’s a couple, they’re in their eighties, and they’re the first ones there for class. They can’t wait to use the body blades and do weight-lifting. They’re my inspiration,” she adds.

Beyond the fitness classes, the Longview ARC Society is also planning new activities, with the help of a ChooseWell Healthy Community Grant. Michele will use part of the $3,800 grant to bring together Longview residents and their Indigenous neighbours from Eden Valley, home to the Stoney-Nakoda First Nation.

Working with Elder Keith Lefthand, Michele is planning evenings of drumming, storytelling and beading. “I hope those of us in Longview can get a better understanding of our neighbours,” says Michele.

As she plans for the future, she reflects on what healthy eating and active living opportunities have meant for Longview through the years. “I am just so appreciative of ChooseWell. I’m far healthier because of them — and so is my community.”