VIRGINIA BEACH — Jane Martin enters the building wearing a fashionable black wool overcoat on this frigid morning.
When she takes off her coat, she’s unveils her bright red sweater and black dress pants. She’s also wearing gold earrings and a gold heart brooch on her sweater.
The 98-year-old Martin isn’t arriving for church or going to play bingo or bridge.
She’s coming to work out at the Williams Farm Recreation Center.
“When I come here, I wear what I’m going to wear the rest of the day,” she said. “It doesn’t matter because I don’t sweat.”
As she comes into the building, she does so without the aid of a walker, cane or any assistance.
She is greeted on every visit by plenty of well-wishers who say, “Hi Ms. Jane.”
She doesn’t understand the commotion.
“Everybody says I’m an inspiration for them,” she said. “I guess it’s because of my age.”
Martin comes to the recreation center to work out three times a week.
“You watch her walk in and the energy that she brings in makes people watch her and go, “Oh my God, this lady is still doing this. That means I can still do it,” said Tim Ray, a recreation specialist at Williams Farm Recreation Center. “But it’s great to see her still moving like that. You’d love to be at that age and be able to do the things that she does. And she still has it. It’s awesome to watch her.”
After taking the elevator to the second floor, Martin walks directly to the stationary recumbent bike, where she peddles for about 15 minutes.
Then she makes her way to the rowing machine, followed by the hip abduction machine, hammer strength row back machine and the seated leg press.
“I speak to people, but I’m not one to stand around and talk to everybody,” she said. “I don’t come up here to talk, but some people come up here and talk the whole time. I come up here to work out, and that’s what I do.”
Several years ago, she was determined to learn everything she could about the machines. So she asked fellow recreation member Athens Holloway.
“She didn’t know how to use any of the equipment,” Holloway said. “I showed her how to use it about five or six years ago, and ever since then, she knows what to do.”
Holloway admires her determination to work out. As for her diet, what diet?
Holloway thought she followed a strict diet like his own.
“So I asked her, ‘Are you on an organic diet?’ And she said, ‘No. I eat whatever they put in front of me.’ She breaks all the rules,” Holloway said laughing. “I had cancer. I had anemia and an iron deficiency, and she has none of that stuff. She eats what she wants to eat. I can’t do that.”
Martin’s favorite thing to eat is chocolate. She’d eat it every day if she could.
At 98, who’s going to tell her anything different?
Martin was born in 1925 in Whaleyville, just outside of Suffolk, before the family moved to Portsmouth. It was there that she developed her love of sports. She even kept score for a neighborhood baseball team. After the game ended, she’d call the score to the Portsmouth Star Newspaper, which later merged with The Virginian-Pilot and Ledger Dispatch in 1955.
Her family later moved to Ghent, where she went to Maury High before girls were allowed to play sports. But that didn’t keep Martin from picking up tennis, badminton and table tennis. She also was a great bowler.
“I was a tomboy. I was out there playing with the boys all the time,” she said. “I didn’t care anything about what the girls did.”
Martin, who went to The American College of Financial Services in Pennsylvania, worked many jobs, including as a payroll clerk, insurance agent and auditor. She was the first woman in Hampton Roads to earn Chartered Life Underwriter designation for insurance professionals. She also was the first female agent with Northwestern National Life to sell more than $1 million of insurance in a month on a production credit basis.
She also has a scholarship in her name at Old Dominion University, established in 2016 to assist a junior or senior majoring in risk and insurance in the Strome College of Business.
She retired in 2020 during COVID — well into her 90s.
But her niece, Charleene Bateman, said she’d still be working if she had her say.
“After (COVID), she wanted to keep working and asked me to help her with resume,” she said. “I told her, ‘No, it’s time for you to retire.’ She’s been working for 80 years.”
Last spring, Martin suffered a serious fall that bruised her face and broke a few ribs.
Because of her age, many wondered if she’d return to the recreation center.
“As soon as the doctors said I could come back, I was back,” she said.
She rehabbed at Westminster Canterbury, where they gave her a walker to help her with her balance.
Martin used it all right, but not for walking.
“She used the walker to help her do her exercises,” Batemen said, laughing. “She was using the back of my sofa, which wasn’t very comfortable, but the walker was perfect.”
Seeing her motivates so many, including fellow gym member Amahd Barnett.
“I’m retired Army, and when I come in here and I’m slacking a little bit, I’m like, ‘She’s 98. I got no reason to ever complain when I come in here,” said Barnett, 43. “She just gets busy. She’s non-stop. No talking. Just straight business. I look at her and I can’t even hold a candle to this lady. She’s no joke.”
Donna Galewski drives Martin to the recreation center. They’ve been coming together for a few years ever since Martin stopped driving after COVID.
“She truly is my inspiration because I figure if Jane can do this, I can do this,” Galewski said. “If I come to the recreation center without Jane, everybody asks, ‘Where is Jane? Is she all right?'”
Martin, who will turn 99 on May 1, is thankful for the opportunity to still be able to work out.
“I’m blessed. I’ve had little to any sickness in my life,” said Martin, who has two sons, William and Michael, who live outside of Hampton Roads. “The Lord has been good to me. I thank him every night.”
Larry Rubama, 757-575-6449, firstname.lastname@example.org