Laura Hinrichsen laughs when you asks if she’s Wonder Woman.
“I still mow my own lawn. I still scoop my own snow,” she says.
Not bad for someone who’ll turn 79 on Feb. 2.
She also teaches water and fitness classes at the Fremont Family YMCA and plays tennis.
Not bad either for someone who didn’t start playing tennis until she was about 48 or learn to swim until she was 58.
At 8 a.m. Monday, Hinrichsen was already busy teaching swimsuit-clad students in a pool at the Y. Smiling and encouraging, she led the class of more than 20 through a series of exercises.
As for herself, Hinrichsen exercises at least two hours every day.
“I enjoy it and I know it’s good for me and it gives me a lot of social time,” she said.
Hinrichsen’s enjoyment of exercise and activity began years ago.
Born in Big Spring, Texas, she was just 3 when her mother died. Her dad, who was a carpenter, reared Hinrichsen and her three siblings.
She and her siblings played softball, rode bikes, foot raced, made and walked on stilts.
“I hiked every day for miles,” she said. “We had a mountain about 10 miles away and we’d hike up on that mountain and back home again. That’s what we did for entertainment.”
Hinrichsen joined the band in fifth grade and played throughout junior and senior high.
She taught baton twirling at her local Y while still in high school.
Hinrichsen met her husband, Tom, when he was stationed at Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring. They married in 1958 and he brought her to his hometown of Fremont a year later.
“I’ve been here ever since and I love it,” she said. “He would have gone back to Texas and I wouldn’t. Even though I miss my family, I like it here too well.”
Tom Hinrichsen was a mailman, made cabinets for contractors and built many houses.
“He kept me moving all the time,” she recalled.
Most of the houses were in Saunders County, where they lived about 40 years. They built three in Fremont, where they’d lived the last 13. She still lives in the last house he built.
The Hinrichsens would have two daughters, Niki and Kelly, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
And throughout their married life, the Henrichsens would have an active lifestyle and a big garden.
“We’ve always walked,” she said. “We had snowmobiles and boats. We waterskied. Whatever we could do as a family we did.”
She started coming to the Y in 1980, wanting to lose 15 pounds, and began taking aerobics classes. A year later, she started playing racquetball.
When Jerry Rinne, now YMCA president and CEO, came to Fremont to attend Midland University, she began playing racquetball with him.
She started teaching aerobics classes at Fremont Health in 1984 until the hospital began paying half of the price of a Y membership.
Hinrichsen began teaching aerobic classes at the Y.
Since few women were playing racquetball, she played in a Valmont’s men’s league for a couple years. Then one year, water wrecked the racquetball courts at the Y.
“Why don’t you buy yourself a tennis racket and learn to play tennis?” her husband suggested.
So she did.
She signed up for tennis, figuring she’d have two weeks for someone to show her the basics of the game. But in those days, tennis courts were outside and it rained every day for two weeks.
“The first day I ever had a tennis racket in my hand was the first day of league,” she said.
At that time, there were eight courts with players placed according to their ability.“Since I had no ability in tennis, I was the last man on the last court,” she said. “I ended up on the second court, about the sixth man that summer. I’ve been playing ever since.”
She’d participate in United States Tennis Association matches.
“We had two teams here in Fremont,” she said. “I played singles for my team. We played against all of the other surrounding towns. I think the first 10 years I played tennis, we made it to regionals.”
She played on an under-age-50 team. When she turned 50, she played the senior team, too. Her senior team went to national competition one year.
“When I became 60, I played on a Super Senior team. I could play on three teams,” she said.
In the meantime, Hinrichsen began substitute teaching water aerobics for the late Ruth Anne Immell, while continuing to teach her own aerobics classes in the gym.
Then one day while helping her husband cut wood, she stepped in a small hole and tore the meniscus pad in her right knee.
She couldn’t teach classes or play tennis or racquetball, but figured learning how to swim would be good for her. At 58, she began taking the one-time-a-week class and practicing in the pool for two hours each day.
“I just wanted to know I was waterproofed and I wouldn’t drown if I fell off the boat or off the dock,” she said. “I gave myself six weeks to be waterproofed.”
She later was asked to teach water classes at the Y. Meanwhile, her knee got better. She went back to playing tennis and racquetball.
“My knee held out until six years ago,” she said. “I had to have it replaced in 2011.”
She was 72.
“It would never have done that if I hadn’t been in the water all that time,” she said.
She’s taught water classes for about 22 years.
These days, she’s busy teaching water aerobics with between 20 to 30 students and Silver Splash classes with between 15 to 20 students – both on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“People don’t know what the water can do for you,” she said. “I’ve seen so many people come into my classes that have never been in a pool before – a lot of widowed ladies – and I tell them stay by the side where they’re comfortable. Within two weeks, they’re out among the rest of us, enjoying the class and able to do things they never would think of doing on land.
“The water has been very kind to me.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Hinrichsen teaches Silver Sneakers in the fitness gym.
“We use chairs and we sit and do exercises,” she said. “We stand and use the chair for balance and do exercises and we use balls. We use rubber bands and weights.”
Hinrichsen’s days get busy. She recalls one day when she taught two classes at the Y, helped an elderly couple move, made her supper and played tennis that night.
Hinrichsen admits she was tired, but points out the benefits of activity.
“Everyone needs to stay active as they age — not necessarily to live longer, but to have quality of life,” she said, adding, “Water is a great way to get back in shape, gently, no matter what age.”
Hinrichsen’s husband died about 1 ½ years ago. She remains grateful for what and who she has in her life.
“I’ve met so many great people through the Y and my classes,” she said, adding, “I thank God for ‘The Good Life’ — good health, good family, good friends.”