In 1992, personal trainer Phil LiCastri moved here from New York. He figured a good way to learn the area was to volunteer.
He found Elderhouse in Norwalk, and taught a chair exercise class.
He’s been doing it twice a week ever since.
“I fell in love with that population,” Phil says. ” I didn’t know my own grandparents well. So working with them was a great connection.”
In 1997, Phil and a partner opened Fast Fitness. It’s still in existence.
But in 2005 he started Pinnacle Health & Fitness, near Shake Shack. It’s not far from the Lansdowne and Regents Park condos. Older residents there have found a warm welcome at Pinnacle.
Many of Phil’s clients are in their 70s and 80s. He’s 52. But, he says, “As I’ve aged, I know my body is changing too.”
A lot of trainers want to work with younger athletes. Phil does too: In his spare time, he coaches the Joel Barlow High School wrestling team. But he loves the challenge of the aging population.
“I’ve always been interested in flexibility and movement,” Phil says. “As you age, you lose balance and strength. Those are sometimes overlooked. I wanted to focus on them.”
He remembers fondly a retired high-level TV executive, who was battling Parkinson’s.
“He had so much knowledge, and such a love for life,” Phil says. At first he walked slowly in. Later, he came in a wheelchair.
“He had such drive. People like that keep me coming here every day.”
An engineer with cancer came throughout his chemo. He too had a great will to live. And — like the television exec –both were at Pinnacle the week before they died.
Phil trained a retired eye surgeon beginning at age 80. He was a client for 14 years. Now he’s 95. The other day, Phil visited him in the hospital.
Current clients include 87-year-old Bernie Perry, a travel writer and photographer who 2 years ago wanted to build up his leg strength and endurance, so he could carry 15 pounds of equipment to Iran.
Another 87-year-old, Mel Hyman, still runs a company in Florida. He spends a week there every month, overseeing production and the warehouse.
An 83-year-old woman is an educational consultant for children’s television and movies. An 84-year-old teaches writing at a college in Manhattan.
“Everyone has such interesting stories,” Phil says. “I love listening to them talk.”
Pinnacle is different from other fitness clubs in another way: It has no member fees.
“If you come for an hour a week with a trainer, you can come in the rest of the week and work out on you’re own,” Phil says. “That’s why we’re here. We love what we do.”
His staff includes yoga and aerobics teachers, a kettlebell competitor, a Romanian national track champion and a boxing instructor, among others.
Phil’s clients inspire him. “If they can do what they’re doing, I want to help everyone I can,” Phil says.
“Hopefully I’ll be around long enough to help people who are younger now, as they age.”