She leads ‘Wild Women of the Wilderness’

By Joe Stumpe | March 29, 2019

NEWTON – When Marlis Nickel was growing up, schools didn’t offer much in the way of sports for girls. So she’d jog to school carrying her trombone and books.

Fast forward about seven decades and Nickel hasn’t slowed down much. At least four mornings a week, she and friend Sue Olsen can be found at the YMCA here. They work out in classes called Muscle Pump, Body Design, Turbo Kick and Fierce.

“We realized we were the oldest people in the class and quickly named ourselves ‘The Fierce Old Ladies,’ Nickel, 79, said.

The classes help Nickel get ready for another group activity – mountain hiking. As a charter member of the “Wild Women of the Wilderness,” made up of friends and family, Nickel goes on weeklong hikes through the Colorado Rockies each summer, carrying everything she needs on her back.

“My trail name is ‘Blaze,’ she said.

Nickel had always considered herself fairly active but stepped it up after one her oldest daughter, Marcia, moved back to the area and bought her a pair of running shoes. “Most of the time we would run on the high school track and she would pass me several times on my two- to three-mile run,” she said.

About 15 years ago, Marcia proposed a hike up to the Continental Divide in Colorado but said her mom would first need to be able to jog two miles nonstop to be able to accomplish the climb. Nickel did so. The “Wild Women” have grown to about 10 members, aged 35 and up. Nickel has other interests. For instance, she’s a member of the Entre Nous Victorian Dancers at Old Cowtown Museum. But nothing gives her more than the satisfaction of staying fit. After retiring from the Newton schools, where she worked with special education students, she was happy to learn that her insurance covers the SilverSneakers program at the YMCA.

“I like how good it feels to be strong, to be able to do things that some people around me can’t do.”

Nickel, who has three grandchildren and five greats, admits making the occasional concession to age and a balky knee in the most strenuous workout classes.

“If they’re doing a lot of jumping, we improvise,” she said. “The burpees (squat thrusts) are kind of hard. I’ll do a certain amount of them and then I do something else.”

Her main piece of healthy eating advice is to cut out soft drinks and other sources of excess sugar. By taking care of herself, she’s able to hike five miles a day in high altitudes with a
25-lb pack on her back. 

Which, she realizes, is not for everybody.

“Just do something,” she said. “You don’t have to backpack into the wilderness. You just need to stay active.”