Almost 100 and Still Going Strong

Toni Underwood is a veteran, a world traveler, and a great-grandmother. She’s not showing any signs of slowing down.

It’s 11 a.m. on a Thursday morning, so 98-year-old Toni Underwood is warming up at the gym. She’s getting ready for one of her three weekly 30-minute workouts that she’s been doing since she moved into the Fairwinds Retirement Community three years ago. Her trainer, Kelly Fennelly, guides her around a small fitness room, adjusting weights on machines and instructing her when to take breaks. 

“Kelly has us all walking, swimming, lifting weights, playing bean-bag baseball,” Underwood said as she held onto a ballet bar, lifting her leg to the side. “I really enjoy it.” 

Courtesy Toni Underwood

Dressed in patterned pants, a simple black cardigan, and an assortment of heavy-looking statement jewelry — much of which complements her silver nail polish — Underwood doesn’t exactly look like a gym rat. As she confidently reaches up to grasp the bars of a lateral pull-down machine, she also doesn’t look like she’s legally blind. 

“It’s blurry; that’s the best way I can describe it,” Underwood said. “I was told that I would always have peripheral vision, but I’ve lost my center vision. But it doesn’t really handicap me in any way, except I can’t drive or read. Besides that, I think I can do what most people do.”

She’s serious about this, too: Even though she’s knocking on 100’s door, she’s still traveling around the world. Her latest trip took her to Africa with her 39-year-old grandson for two weeks.

“We just loved it,” she said, smiling. “We went on some Jeep safaris, did a lot of sight-seeing, saw Nelson Mandela’s home. We wanted to see as much as we could, and it was great. It’s so different over there.” 

Her yen travel for goes back a long way and has taken her to Guatemala, Bali, China, Italy, France, and Switzerland — just to name a few. During World War II, Underwood served as a nurse overseas, first in Wales and then outside of Liverpool. 

“Our young men were wounded, treated by the medics, then sent to us immediately,” she said. “We opened up two general hospitals, and we were set up by the time the invasion came, so we were able to take care of everyone.”

Underwood’s lifelong career in nursing led to her work as a school nurse. She’s not entirely sure how long ago she retired — it’s been a few years, she joked — but she misses it. If it were up to her, she’d still be practicing. 

To keep herself busy in her retirement — when she’s not off exploring new countries, that is — Underwood sticks to a tight schedule, keeping her mind and body sharp. Since coming to Fairwinds, this includes her weekly exercise sessions with Fennelly, daily bridge games, listening to audiobooks, and making sure to catch the speakers who come through, who talk about comparative religion, art history, and more. 

“I’m very curious,” Underwood said. “I like to know what’s going on in the world, what my friends are thinking. It’s all about being interested, and active, and happy. I’m very fortunate.”

is an assistant editor at 425 magazine.
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