Joe Glass doesn't have abs of steel. The gym chicks don't queue up for his class because he's cute.
But the water aerobics instructor does have something that few, if any, exercise instructors across the country have: 90 years of life experience.
Glass celebrates his 90th birthday today in the water, leading one of his most popular classes at the J.M. Tull-Gwinnett YMCA in Gwinnett County. There will be a "shindig," as Glass calls it, tonight after his class, which has an average attendance of 25.
His students, many of whom are regulars, are devoted to him.
"I love Joe," said Joan Waddell, 55, of Lawrenceville. "He's always smiling. He builds everybody up. Even if you feel down and you don't feel good, he pumps you up."
Tom Ivicevic, spokesman for the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America in Sherman Oaks, Calif., said he knows of no other fitness instructor as old as Glass.
The retired hospital administrator who lives in Snellville teaches five water aerobics classes each week and takes another three. He's taught as many as 11 a week, as he did last summer when his wife, Grace, died.
Glass didn't quite know what to do with himself when he lost his partner of 63 years, so he took to the water even more. "She was so precious to me," said Glass, who also teaches a Sunday school class each week at Smoke Rise Baptist Church.
During Grace Glass' long illness, Joe Glass turned to the water for emotional and physical strength. He learned that about the only time his arthritis doesn't hurt him is when he's in the water, he said.
Glass finds joy in helping others know the benefits of exercise and the freedom from pain that he has found in the water.
"I have a great time, and I love them all," he said of his students. "I do it as much for the personal as for the physical benefit."
He plans to teach eight this summer. His Thursday night class at the J.M. Tull-Gwinnett YMCA is one of the Y's most popular.
Last week, with 30 students moving about in the pool, the scene looked more like an Esther Williams movie set than a water aerobics class because of the sheer size of the class.
Such large attendance is typical for Glass, said Y aquatics director Chip Johnston. "Joe has quite a following," Johnston said. "He gets in the water, he talks to you and he's working you. He's a very good instructor."
At last week's class, Glass showed sparks of humor and fatherly tenderness. He tells them he wants them to have "buns of steel" so that when they walk down the street and someone admires them, they can say they have "body by Joe."
Gloria Young, 49, of Lawrenceville said she was skeptical when she came to her first water aerobics class a few months ago and saw the instructor. Glass quickly won her confidence.
"I was amazed at how hard he worked us," Young said. "More power to him. I love it."
When class begins, Glass is strict about cutting out the chitchat. His students range from 24 to 64.
"They're here to work," Glass said. "They can talk after class."
Glass doesn't believe in wasting time, his students said. They move from one exercise to the next without a breather. "I can wear anybody out," he said proudly.
Many of his students said that's one of the reasons they admire him. "I love Joe," said Pat La Clair, 64, of Lawrenceville. "I hope I'm like him when I'm 90."
Glass was a little under the weather last week because his sinuses were bothering him. He came to class, though, because "I feel better when I get through. Exercise does me good."
Dr. John Xerogeanes, director of Sports Medicine at Emory University's Orthopaedics and Spine Center, said water exercise is perfect for seniors, people with arthritis and pregnant women.
Glass, a father of two, was not an athlete or fitness buff. He started swimming only when arthritis compelled him to find help from intense pain 15 years ago. He then moved to water aerobics.
While Glass' students praise his coaching and encouragement, many also said they value a silent influence he has on them: inspiration. Many said that when they have had a long day and consider missing a class, they think of Glass.
"And I think: If he can do it, I can do it," said Jan Trinks, 50, of Lawrenceville.
Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution