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Man stays active despite joint pain
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Bert Valery, 73, plays softball twice a week in addition to hours of exercise every day.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Bert Valery can’t remember a time when he wasn’t active, and at 73 he’s still going with no intention of stopping.

The Indian Rocks Beach insurance broker puts demands on himself that most people would avoid, but he said he can’t live without it.

“My wife Donna and I get up at 5:30 every morning and by 6:30, we’re working out at home. Then by 7, we’re on the beach running. She goes four miles, I go three,” he said.

Doing things they both enjoy as a couple makes the activities better, he said. The couple does some form of exercise every day.

“We do weights, go bicycling or swimming, and I do 20 minutes of floor exercises every day,” he said.

Valery, who recently came in second in his age group in a triathlon in Clearwater Beach, said his love of physical activity started back when he was a young boy.

“From the time I was in grammar school, I really loved sports, all sports,” he said. “I played lacrosse in college and around then I got into running.”

Valery was one of the founders of the West Florida Runners Club in 1974 and was chairman of the Fun ’n Sun Run, one of the first road races held in Pinellas County, second only to the Bay to Bay Run in St. Petersburg.

What makes Valery’s activities all the more remarkable is the state of his joints. He’s had both knees replaced and one hip replaced. Yet he keeps on going.

“I told my doctor after my last surgery to make sure I could get back to running and exercising as quickly as possible,” he said.

Valery figures his health woes are because he has been active for so many years.

“I’ve been a runner all my life, and I’m sure that put stress on the joints,” he said. “I was recently reading about a woman who was 94 years old, who began to run at 74. I look at people like her who started late and came to the conclusion that they don’t have knee problems because they hadn’t been running all their lives.”

Valery said the pain of running made it mandatory to have the knee replacement surgery.

“I couldn’t wait until I was 65 to get the knees replaced, and when I was 67, I got them done,” he said. “Then last June, I had my right hip replaced, but it sure helped me to continue to run and bike and play ball.”

Donna Valery admits that keeping in shape is something she does because of Bert.

“Married to someone like him keeps me in shape because he makes me feel so guilty,” she said. “He’s always on the move. I have that personality too, but there is a guilt factor while he’s out there moving around. I don’t feel comfortable sitting around reading a book.”

Donna spoke of her husband’s activity with pride in her voice.

“He used to do marathons, but his hip prevented him from biking and swimming. Now he’s back at it and, in the recent triathlon, he came in first in biking and swimming but just couldn’t keep up with the running segment,” she said. “Now mostly he jogs in moderation.”

Moderation, however, is not a word often used in Bert Valery’s vocabulary. Three years ago, Valery wanted to play a game of softball, so he founded the Indian Rocks Beach senior softball league. At first, it was just a weekly pick-up game for anyone who wanted to drop by and play. Now it has grown to a full-fledged league with teams and standings and statistics. The pick-up game still takes place as well – anything to stay in shape and have fun.

“The guys who came out to play kept insisting that we had to do it more than once a week, so we started the league with teams and all,” he said.

Valery is slowing down, just a little, because of all those joint problems. He’s taken to a new form of exercise that is a little easier on the joints.

“The doctor suggested that I work out in the pool, so I have a 45-minute routine in the pool and it is a pretty hefty pool work-out,” he said. “I do it twice a day; it takes all the pressure off your knees and makes it easy to do. I could work out all day and wouldn’t feel my joints.”

The Valerys raised three children in Indian Rocks Beach. Their son, Doug, works in the insurance agency with his father. Their daughter, Colette, was an All-State in track at Clearwater Central Catholic. She now lives in Colorado.

Another son, Bert Jr. was killed in 1983 when he was 17. A car hit him while he was bicycling home from work. That moved Valery to become one of the prime organizers behind the Pinellas Trail.

“As a bereaved parent, you want to make something good happen,” he said. “I wanted to make it safer for bicyclists, and I wanted clearly defined bike lanes and trails where they would be safe. In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined the success of the Trail and how many people use it.”

Keeping up his level of fitness doesn’t involve any special secret. Valery said he recalled an interview he heard many years ago in which an Olympic athlete was asked how he managed to keep going at age 30, old for an Olympian.

“He said, ‘I’m out here, and others who might be better are not out here.’ Successful people do the little things that unsuccessful people don’t do,” Valery explained. “Just do it, get yourself in the routine and you’ll do it.”

Valery, even at 73, has no intention of changing his lifestyle. Donna Valery said that finding out he couldn’t keep moving would be the worst thing that could ever happen to him. Her husband agreed.

“That’s my life. I recognize that I’m getting older and can’t move as fast as I once could, but I look forward to keep on exercising,” he said. “It would change my life if I couldn’t do it.”
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