93-Year-Old Woman Maintains Independence with Portland Parks & Recreation Personal Trainer

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An inspiring story, and more proof that you're never too old to be active!
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(Portland,OR) –

Willa Asbjornsen told her daughter she didn’t need to be in an assisted-living community. The 88 year-old wanted to move back home.

But Allison Asbjornsen was concerned about her aging mother’s ability to care for herself. The two women agreed to a compromise: Willa could move back home – if she worked out with a personal trainer to improve her strength and balance to ensure she was fit enough to care for herself.

Five years later, the now 93-year-old Willa is still living at home and thriving, thanks in part to Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) personal trainer Holly Howard, based at Southwest Community Center. The pair is a shining example of how PP&R can help enhance the quality of life for people of all ages.

“Willa is remarkable. I like to say that everyone falls in awe with her!” says Howard. “Willa has gotten more confident and has a great attitude. At first I think she felt like she HAD to be there with me. Now she eagerly embraces our sessions!”

Willa and Holly work on exercises essential for doing everyday tasks; reaching, standing, sitting, and more. The 93-year-old client says she’s delighted she can confidently sit, stand, and reach, and can improve her wellness without even the use of weights or machines.

“Holly is very inventive about finding exercises I can do. At the same time she urges me on through exercises I initially balk at,” says Willa. “And soon I find I can do them! I live in an area that’s very hilly, and I find that now it’s easier to climb the hills than it was before. Bending over is easier than it used to be. She keeps finding new exercises so it doesn’t get boring.”

Holly incorporates a weighted medicine ball in Willa’s workouts, along with modified push-ups, pull-ups, dumbbells, and other functional balance and strength exercises. Her goal is to make the sessions fun for the 93-year-old, as well as to produce results that enable Willa to maintain her strength, mobility, and flexibility.

“A lot of things I’ve learned from Holly I can do at home too, and I really like that,” says Willa. “She takes care to spot me during exercises. When I was growing up, women were never encouraged to be athletic. But even without an athletic background I’ve been able to do all this – even at my age!”

Willa and her trainer, Holly, have maintained their life-enhancing partnership for five years and counting. They work together two to three times a week, and Willa exercises solo as well.

“She’s very conscious of her body image, even at 93,” remarks Holly. She gets her hair done regularly, and wants to have a skinnier stomach! Willa is an inspiration, maintaining her current quality of living while being ready for whatever life brings her tomorrow.”

Portland Parks & Recreation has personal training, group exercise classes, fitness centers and pools available at community centers across the city. For more info please go to www.portlandparks.org

About Willa Asbjornsen

Willa was born in Portland in 1919 and is a member of McMinnville High School’s class of 1937. She earned a degree from Oregon State University in 1941 and then (in her forties) went on to earn her masters in physiology from the University of Portland.

Earning this degree allowed her to teach a training class for social workers at Mt. Hood Community College.

Once Willa retired from teaching in her sixties, she began to backpack around the world, staying in hostels with only a single duffle bag.

While on her travels she visited Africa, Southeast Asia, India, and Turkey. During this time she ventured into the Himalayas, reaching a peak elevation of 16,000 feet.

About Holly Howard

Holly is a Personal Trainer, Group Exercise Instructor, and Gym Supervisor at Portland Parks & Recreation’sSouthwestCommunity Center. She is a lifelong Portlander, married to her high-school sweetheart Justin. They are “parents” to a rescued dog, Oreo, and two cats.

Holly says she weighed close to 220 pounds in high school, but decided to make a change in her life at the end of her junior year.

“I opened my eyes to a world of eating that didn’t involve processed foods, fast foods, or soda pop,” she says. “I began thinking about where my nutrition was coming from, prompting me to eat more fruits, veggies, and lean meats.”

While continuing to eat healthy, Holly rediscovered the gym with a good friend.

“I loved the feeling I got after I accomplished a challenging routine,” she remembers.

Holly pursued a degree atPortlandCommunity Collegeand began interning at Southwest Community Center (SWCC). The enamored staff then offered Holly her current position at SWCC, which she has enjoyed for five years.

Holly teaches five days a week and says she is always open to taking on new clients.

Southwest Community Center

6820 SW 45th Avenue Portland, OR 97219


Portland Parks & Recreation has personal training, group exercise classes, fitness centers and pools available at community centers across the city. For more info please go to www.portlandparks.org