Velva Denton is almost always in motion.
The indomitable 101-year-old rises early every day and heads for her treadmill. She says it’s impossible to stay in bed past 4.
“My body gets tired of being in bed,” she said. “It just kind of spits me out.”
Her body complains a bit, bones aching, but Denton beelines for her exercise equipment.
“I’m stiff at first,” she said, “but the treadmill takes it away.”
After breakfast, as soon as the sky lightens, the Pendleton woman drives to the Roundup Athletic Club for an additional mile on the treadmill and a workout class.
In the afternoon, she returns to the RAC for a third exercise session with her “baby sister,” Emogene Martindale, in tow.
At the athletic club, Denton serves as a feisty and energetic role model.
“She’s a legend and an inspiration,” said fitness instructor Dale Freeman.
He stood in the doorway of the trainers’ office. Across the way, in Amy Smith’s Monday morning circuit class, Denton worked an arm machine called the Krank.
“Aaaannnd switch,” Smith directed the 18 exercisers in her class.
The petite Denton scooted over to a lower back machine and got settled, selecting the level of resistance with two adjustment buttons. Looking flashy in a turquoise top, black capri workout pants and black-and-pink Nikes, she began pumping her body forward and back.
Bonnie Douglas, pedaling a stationary bike nearby, spoke of snow in the forecast and inclined her head at Denton.
“It won’t deter her,” Douglas said. “She’ll be back this afternoon.”
When it’s icy or snowy, Denton takes a taxi, said front desk attendant Keegan Mishler.
“She calls to check and make sure de-icer has been spread,” Mishler said.
One icy day, he tried to talk her into staying home. A couple of hours later, Denton walked in the front door and smiled at him.
She says she has always been active. As a child, she climbed tall fir trees near her home in The Dalles and played school sports.
“In grade school, they didn’t have enough boys, so I played football,” she said. “In high school, I took every sport. I was never still.”
She hasn’t changed.
“As long as I’m in motion, I’m happy,” she said.
During her years with husband, Bob, now deceased, she regularly ran six miles as he rode along on his bike. The couple and their two children spent plenty of time outdoors, camping, hiking and fishing. She and Bob regularly biked from Pendleton to Adams and back.
Denton, who has an assortment of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, retired from her communications job at the Eastern Oregon State Hospital 36 years ago at age 65.
Several years ago, a broken bone threatened her active lifestyle. As Denton stepped out of her apartment, she lost her balance and found herself on the ground with a injured elbow. When she called for help, no one heard, so she gathered up her dangling arm and went back inside. She dismissed the idea of an ambulance and called a transportation service instead. As she waited for the car, she raked the warm clothes from the dryer into a laundry basket because it needed to be done.
“Now, I’m ready to go,” she thought at the time.
During the days following her surgery, Denton insists she experienced absolutely no pain, something she attributes to God and the fact that “every church in town was praying for me.”
For a long time, Denton told no one at the athletic club her age. “When people asked, I said, ‘Put whatever age you like on me. When I get to be 100, you can throw me a party.’”
“She said she thought people would look at her like a number rather than a person,” said Smith. “She held her ground.”
Denton promised Smith she’d tell when she was about to turn 100 so Smith could make party preparations. In October of 2017, invitations went out. Circuit class members prepared food.
On Oct. 9, the RAC lobby morphed into party central for Denton’s 100th birthday bash. The guest of honor wore a bright red shirt that said “Team 100.” She posed for photos with Smith’s granddaughter, who has the same birthday. The toddler wore a shirt that said “Team One.”
Club members, plus friends and family from all over, attended the party. Denton weathered the fuss with good cheer. She insisted on no presents except for donations to the Salvation Army, whichtotaled several hundred dollars.
Smith said people do double-takes when they learn Denton’s age.
“People don’t realize how much older she really is because she’s so sharp,” Smith said. “She doesn’t take meds, she still drives her car … everyone thinks she walks on water.”
Denton deflects such praise with a wave of her hand.
“I’m with young people all the time. They tell me I’m amazing,” she said. “I tell them I’m not amazing, God’s amazing.”