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Sarasota Friday, Nov. 29, 2019 6 months ago

Persons of Health: For the retired couple, daily exercise is a way of life

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Kirt and Mary Ann Bopp walk half the length of Longboat every morning.
by: Nat Kaemmerer Staff Writer

Kirt and Mary Ann Bopp get honked at a lot. 

Their driving is fine, and they don’t have a “Honk if you love …” sticker on their car. They get honked at most often when traveling by foot because they are a staple of mornings along Gulf of Mexico Drive as they walk their brisk 5 miles hand in hand. The Longboat Key couple is used to the friendly honks by now. 

“Years ago, we had a young man pull off in a convertible, and he says: ‘My mother has talked about you for years and years. My mother says to tell you hello. Now, you don't know her, but her name is Doris, and she drives a red convertible,’” Kirt said, with Mary Ann clarifying the details along the way. 

The Bopps’ dedication has drawn many eyes, and they frequently get stopped on their hour-and-a-half walk by friends or those like Doris. The Bopps hold hands during their walks even though their pace is fast enough to get the blood pumping and shorten breaths. 

“Some people have asked us, ‘Is there a physical problem with one or the other?’” Kirt said. “And we’ll say, ‘It's kind of funny, but we actually love one another and enjoy one another.’ And they laugh.”

For about 10 years before retirement, weekend days were when the Bopps got in their miles. For the past seven or eight years, the Bopps get in a walk nearly every day. In total, they both fit in about three and a half hours of exercise per day. Kirt drives to a gym early in the morning, spends two and a half hours there and comes back to pick up Mary Ann for their walk. She later goes down to the pool to run in the water for another couple hours. On the weekends, though, they often get too tied up at church for exercise beyond their walk, and Kirt takes rest time from the gym to let his body repair.

Kirt and Mary Ann Bopp hold hands as they walk.

The couple spends part of their summers in Europe. This year in Austria, they were walking 10 or more miles a day with a 5-mile walk in both the morning and afternoon, post-sightseeing. 

“[Walking] helps offset the calories,” Mary Ann said. Kirt added that he actually lost weight while there because of all the walking. 

At home, the Bopps keep an eye on their diet to stay healthy and properly fuel their bodies as they age, though they splurge on pizza for weekly date night, Mary Ann said. They keep an eye on their eating habits, which change every few years, and listen to what their bodies want.

“The older we've gotten, the more we've had to watch our weight just because our bodies just don't burn the calories the same,” Kirt said. 

For the Bopps, exercise hasn’t been something that only became a priority after retirement. It’s been a lifelong focus for Kirt, who played football and basketball in high school, tried out hockey as an adult and ran for 20 years. 

“My whole life has been exercise and fitness,” Kirt said. 

Mary Ann was a late bloomer to the dedication to fitness she embodies now, but once she and Kirt married about 35 years ago, she was “roped into” it along with him. Before moving to Longboat Key, Mary Ann also jogged for a time, but her running career was cut short by a ruptured Achilles tendon one day while out in the cold of St. Louis. 

“One reason why we chose to move down here from Midwest [is] because you can be outdoors almost every day down here, and older people do so much better because they stay active,” Kirt said.

Kirt used to run — despite a shattered femur — when he was young after a drunk driver hit him head-on. Doctors patched him up, he said, and his legs served him well as a runner until a knee replacement several years ago. During his running days, he would jump into 10Ks and half-marathons all around the St. Louis area, sometimes doing multiple races in a weekend. He won ribbons and medals, often placing in the top 10% of the race and top 10 of his age class. 

“I'd run a 10K on Saturday morning; I'd run another 10K on Sunday morning,” Kirt said. “My dad looked at me and says, ‘Kirt, don’t you know moderation?’ But I said, ‘You just don’t know what a runner’s high is.”

The Bopps might not get a runner’s high these days, but their daily walks in the Florida sunshine bring them plenty of joy and keeps them young, they said. 

“We thought, ‘Boy, this is the best chance we're going to get to turn back the hands of time,” Kirt said. 

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