By Kellie Butler Farrell – Keys Weekly
June 1, 2022
It’s often said that in this quirky, sun-baked, fabulous island chain, you never know who could be sitting right next to you. If you happen to take a chair yoga class at Founders Park, you just might find yourself seated next to an Olympian.
“1964 was my Olympic year with Peggy Fleming and that was my generation.” Meet 80-year-old Ann-Margreth Hall-Frei (Margreth spelled the Swedish way). The energetic octogenarian is an Olympic figure skater who, at the age of 22, competed for Sweden and later went on to join the Ice Capades.
“I was on tour with the show for 16 years and really loved it. We went all over the world,” she said.
Frei married an American she met in Vail, Colorado while running an ice-skating school. They were married for 30 years and had a son, Zander. Frei’s husband passed away nine years ago.
Now Frei spends several months a year in Islamorada with her son, Capt. Zander Hall. Hall owns Lightly Salted Charters and Frei loves going to the sandbar with him. She enjoys her time in Islamorada so much that over Thanksgiving, she stayed for 10 weeks.
“My son said, ‘Mom, when are you going back?’ And I said, ‘Well, I came with a one-way ticket,’” Frei said with a laugh. She added that splitting her time between Vail and Islamorada is the best of both worlds.
The visit this time will only be for a month. While here, Frei sticks to a routine and never misses the gentle chair yoga class held at the Founders Park amphitheater. The class is upbeat, with moves choreographed to music. Frei performs every move perfectly, but she does have the inside edge – she has the grace and dexterity one would expect from an Olympic figure skater. This is a low impact workout that helps improve flexibility, strength and coordination.
“It always feels good. The best thing is the music and the joy it brings us,” said Frei.
There’s also a crucial social aspect to the class. Friendships are made here and encouragement is always a given.
“A lot of my students will show up 20 minutes early just to have that time where they can chat amongst each other,” said fitness coach and Plantation Key Fitness owner Heather Head. “You’ll see some of them will linger after class for quite a while and talk. I love seeing that.”
Several studies on aging stress the importance of social interaction for seniors. Strong social ties have been linked to a decreased risk of depression and a longer life span. “I never see frowns in this class,” added Head.
Hip problems have left this former Olympic figure skater with some limitations, but she remains positive and undeterred.
“Everybody does whatever they can. You work with what you have.”
At 80, Frei is nowhere near the oldest “yogi” in this chair yoga class. “The lady next to me, I think she’s 92 now. Amazing. She’s my inspiration.” Turns out the lady Frei is referring to, Mickey, is actually 96 years old and never misses a beat.
Frei is enjoying every second of her retirement and especially loves to travel and meet new people. When asked what it was like competing at the Olympic level, with the best of the best, she paused for a second and said it wasn’t until after the fact that she realized it was a life-changing experience that led to a wonderful professional career.
“It was just a competition with a lot of hype and stress. It’s only afterwards, a few years later, that I realized what an amazing gift that was.”