By PENNY FLETCHER
SUN CITY CENTER- Caroline Miller was sitting around her apartment playing with her 5-year old son Brandon and letting her mother do all the housework when “Mom” posed a life-changing question: “Why not fill out this and see if you get chosen?”
It was a notice from the British Broadcasting Corporation seeking “young Brits living either a wild or sedentary lifestyle to go to America to take part in a documentary called “Are You Fitter than a Pensioner.”
“I filled it out never thinking I would be chosen,” said Caroline on her return trip to South County July 28. “They (BBC) called me, and gave me two weeks notice. I didn’t know where in America I was going, or even what state or what kind of clothes to pack. Just that I had been chosen and that they would be in touch.”
So in April young Brits who were living a partying-lifestyle, eating, drinking and smoking, or as in Caroline’s case, basically living as out-of-shape couch potatoes, came to America and were shown how fit seniors in retirement centers around the country work to stay healthy in body and mind.
Other groups went to retirement towns in five cities, including Sun City, Arizona and California.
Four Brits, including Caroline, came here.
Caroline explained that the way the British education system is set up, teens graduate at 16 and then get to choose whether to go to university or follow a trade. But at 16, many do not do anything more than party and drink or (as in her case) lie around the house.
“I didn’t realize how terribly unfit I was,” she told me. “Or that I was setting such a bad example for my son.”
The BBC chose Rolande and Bert Poulin as mentors for Caroline and the other young British woman, Jacqualine Oliver, who at 18, admitted she drank and smoked marijuana daily and lived a lifestyle that included nightly partying.
Two young men, Sean and Kevin, were also in the group and stayed with Joan and Bruce Anderson.
When the four arrived, they were given “fitness age tests” by a personal trainer at the Sun City Center gym. At 18, Jacqueline tested 55. Ryan, at 21 tested 55. Kevin at 21, tested 40 and Caroline 57.
During their time here cameras followed them from 6 a.m. to 10 at night.
“I loved doing the mentoring,” Rolande Poulin told a group gathered to see the documentary film at the United Methodist Church July 29. “But I would never volunteer to do something like this again because of the cameras.”
Caroline said often there would be three or four takes where they would have to repeat some action, and that cameras even burst into their bedrooms at 6 a.m.
The young Brits and the Sun City Center retirees were challenged to contests in four sports to see which group was the fittest. But not until after the British group learned the rules (and the techniques) of each sport.
First they swam, then they ran, then they cycled and then they kayaked on one of Sun City Center’s lakes.
Caroline excelled at kayaking and was chosen to represent the British team in the kayak race.
The young Brits ate healthy diets and talked with people who worked out in the gym and lived healthy lives to 80, 90 and even 102.
Ida Wasserman, at 102, said she does her workout nearly every day.
But Caroline’s best influence was Rolande.
“I wanted to come back and thank her. To show her all her words and hard work had really helped me change my life so I can be a good role model for my son,” she said.
Ronalde clogs, plays tennis on teams, plays bridge, goes to workout classes at the gym and plays on a softball team. In the past she has run races, played volleyball and golf.
But she talked with Caroline about her mental attitude too.
“Since I’ve gone back (to England), I’ve been working as a care worker (elder caregiver) and going to University,” Caroline said. “I want to be an operating room nurse.”
She’s also lost nearly 20 pounds and doesn’t intend to stop there.
“My son has changed his habits too. He eats apples instead of chocolate all the time and I’ve learned to make more home-cooked meals.”
Caroline saved up her own money to make the return trip to thank Rolande and Bert. She also said she wanted to see if the people here were really as nice as they had appeared for the British cameras.
“I am so glad the experience made a real change,” Rolande said. “It was hard for me to believe the young Brits really led such an unhealthy lifestyle.”
As part of the presentation, the BBC filmed British youth in nightclubs, in groups of smokers and eating all kinds of junk food.
“It’s hard for someone to know what they want to be or do at 16,” Caroline said. “There are trade schools and universities and apprenticeships they can take, but at 16, most kids’ minds aren’t thinking about furthering their education. They really have to have some drive, or parents that push them into something to do. Otherwise most of them just live the party life.”