CAPE CARTERET — For retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Jack Butler, getting older shouldn’t mean shirking from physical activity.
In fact, the 80-year-old fitness instructor at Cape Carteret Aquatic and Wellness Center is looking to deliver quite the opposite message.
“When you’re young, exercise is an option,” Butler said. “When you get older, it’s not an option anymore. It’s mandatory. The call of the couch and the recliner gets a little loud when you pass 60. You have to be proactive to add activity to your life.”
Butler was the second employee hired at the health club when it opened in 1998. Since then, he has carved out a spot as a fitness guru for the elderly in his community. It’s a position he doesn’t hold lightly, being a source of accountability and guidance through a challenging time.
“I’m here to help people through the decline,” Butler said. “Some people are in denial of that decline, but it happens to everyone. Even me. It’s so important to be active when you get older. No one is immune. Even if you try to stay on top of it, like I do, it surprises you.”
Butler teaches a range of classes at the health club, including a Silver Sneakers fitness program for seniors 65 and older and a more intense core works class for all ages. Butler was quick to point out the resources offered at the club for older attendees, such as chair yoga and water aerobics.
“We started teaching Silver Sneaker classes 13 years ago,” he said. “We provide at least two classes a week that are specifically designed for folks 65 years and up.”
Butler continued, “We use a range of easy-to-use tools, such as medicine balls and resistance bands, as well as a variety of exercises that will improve range of movement, joints and overall strength. It’s comprehensive, but it’s something older people can handle. We have students in their 90s who attend the class. Nobody is excluded from the class. We have hundreds on the roster. Some take advantage of it and some don’t.”
Butler stressed that with age comes the temptation of inactivity, best fought by scheduling weekly fitness-oriented activities.
“Unless you’re self-directed, you want something on your schedule every week that gets you out of the house and moving,” Butler said. “I found things to do that would keep me healthy. I refereed soccer for many years, which was a great tool to keep me mobile and keep my mind sharp. I ref the little kids now, but hey I get to run around with the kids and get paid for it.”
Butler turned 80 on April 8, getting a surprise from his core works class when he arrived at the gym at 6 a.m.
“I came into the gym, and there’s banners up and balloons,” he said. “I knew something was up, and that was a long morning of wonderful blessings from people who know me here. It has been an overwhelming and a wonderful birthday.”
Butler helped start the Jacksonville Area Soccer Association (JASA) in 1975 and coached for several years, despite never actually playing the game himself. He spent 43 years as a referee for recreation and high school soccer, as well as Upward Basketball.
Butler has worn many hats at once since retiring from the Marine Corps in 1990 after 29 years. The New Jersey native stayed in familiar waters after spending 10 years at Camp Lejeune, making Cape Carteret his home where he worked for Liberty Home Care doing home healthcare as a physical therapist assistant until 2013. He attended Fayetteville Technical Community College from 1995-1997 where he obtained his PTA certification.
Camp Lejeune was one of many spots for Butler during his commission with the military. After graduating from Lafayette College in 1961 with a B.S. Degree in Mettalurgical Engineering, Butler spent a tour as a company commander with the First Engineer Battalion in Vietnam. He later graduated from the Command and Staff Course at the Naval War College before moving on to perform a range of executive officer positions in Baltimore, Albany, Ga., Camp Fuji in Japan and the Marine Corps Development and Education Command Center in Quantico, Va.
Butler’s love of fitness was present since his childhood and ever-strengthened in the Marine Corps. At 36, however, he suffered a debilitating and near-fatal stroke while running during a tour of duty in Okinawa, Japan. He avoided being medically discharged from the military and has since never gained full mobility in his left side.
“There’s always going to be a reason to keep you away from exercise,” Butler said. “You have to ignore it. You have to push through it. It’s the only way to live.”