At 90, Everett nurse stays in the swim

It’s a Monday morning. Teresa Schmierer is in the pool. A boom box blasts out Gloria Estefan &Miami Sound Machine: “Come on, shake your body baby, do the conga.”

Water aerobics instructor Melodie Nelson, who’s poolside demonstrating high kicks and arm circles, takes a break to change the music. It’s a birthday surprise for Schmierer, a switch from the hard-driving Latin beat.

“OK Teresa, memory city,” Nelson says as she changes the CD. The place quiets down. A dozen or so people in the pool hear a dreamy tune from another time. It’s the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s “Moonlight Serenade.”

In 1939, when the song was a hit, Schmierer was 20 years old. On Friday, the Everett woman will celebrate her 90th birthday. Classmates jumped the gun Monday. They brought a big cake decorated with an American flag, and later took Schmierer out for lunch.

“She is so remarkable, with the best attitude about life,” said Kim Pontrello, a friend who’s been taking water aerobics classes with Schmierer for more than a decade.

They keep moving in Nelson’s class three mornings a week at 24 Hour Fitness near Silver Lake. Before the health club opened last year, they met for years at a similar club on Everett’s Evergreen Way.

As the class friendships flourish, age is irrelevant. Schmierer is turning 90. Pontrello and Nelson are middle-aged, and others in class are young enough to be Schmierer’s grandchildren.

“Some people go to exercise classes because they want to look good. I want them to feel good,” said Nelson. She shared that some in the water aerobics group have survived heart attacks, major surgeries, diabetes and other chronic ailments.

“In one class we had six people who had lost a child. It’s a support group now,” Nelson said.

No one can live 90 years without knowing sorrow. In 1994, Kurt Schmierer, one of Teresa and Cliff Schmierer’s four children, was killed while climbing Mount Dorje Lakpa, a 22,987-foot peak in Nepal. Tears came to her eyes Monday when she talked about her lost son, a geologist who’d earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Washington University.

It was the year Kurt Schmierer died that his mother joined the water aerobics group. Despite the loss of cartilage in a knee, Teresa Schmierer, wearing an infectious smile with her black swimsuit, keeps up with the movements while floating on a water toy.

“When most people start winding down, at 75 years old she started pushing herself to exercise. Over the years, she has been the one person in the pool who is always there,” said Pontrello, who has pictures of other pool parties, including Schmierer’s “great at 88” birthday two years ago.

Schmierer can look back on a lifetime of adventure, service and faith.

Born in Riverside, Iowa, she studied nursing at Mercy Hospital in Davenport, Iowa. She served in the Navy aboard the USS Repose, a hospital ship. She and her future husband were naval officers when they met in Shanghai, China, during World War II. Married in uniform in 1946, they’ve been married 63 years.

Both are from large families. Teresa Schmierer is the youngest of nine, and Cliff was the baby in a family of six children. Before retirement, she worked as a registered nurse at Everett General Hospital and in several medical offices.

After those weekday workouts, she doesn’t sleep in on Sundays. Schmierer volunteers as a greeter at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Everett.

“She’s been with us so long, we started calling her ‘Mother Teresa,’ ” Nelson said. In her oldest student, the aerobics instructor sees that age doesn’t mean much. “When Teresa first came, we had to help her up the steps,” Nelson said.

There she was Monday, climbing from the pool on her own, with ageless strength and grace.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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