D.C. Gym Paints Mural for 90-Year-Old Former Ballerina Who Watches Classes Through Her Window
“I hope it reminds people that they have to smile and stay determined," Tessa Sollom Williams said
Each morning at 7 a.m., Tessa Sollom Williams settles in at the window of her eighth-floor apartment and watches across the way as members of the gym next door work out on the roof.
The 90-year-old Sollom Williams has been cooped up inside her Washington, D.C. apartment for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and so watching others exercise at the neighboring Balance Gym has been her sole source of inspiration.
“I never miss it,” she told the Washington Post. “I love watching them.”
And they love being watched — so much so that after Sollom Williams’ daughter shared with them the sweet story, Balance Gym created a special “Keep Moving” mural for her to see each day from her window.
Sollom Williams’ daughter Tanya Wetenhall first let the gym know of her mother’s daily routine earlier this month in an email that Balance shared to its Facebook page.
Wetenhall, 53, began her message by acknowledging that though the sentiment might be “odd,” it was genuine, and she wanted to thank the gym’s members for working out each day.
“Seeing everyone on the roof, working out, and keeping up with their routines has given her hope,” she wrote. “As a former dancer, she has exercised vigorously almost every day of her life and if she could, she would try and join the members, trust me, but she is 90 and wobbly.”
Wetenhall said that during regular phone calls with her mom, Sollom Williams always commented on just how hard the members were exercising, and that she was certain they had to be training for the Olympics or something similar.
“Her worst days are rain days and she worries if your members are okay and getting their exercise,” Wetenhall wrote. “I hope you can share with your members that they have given an elderly lady much joy in seeing them embrace health and life.”
The gym was so moved by the message that it announced the mural several weeks later as a means of continuing to inspire and motivate watching neighbors like Sollom Williams.
A former professional ballerina with the International Ballet, Williams moved to D.C. four years ago after the death of her husband, whom she met while dancing in nightclubs in Paris, the Post reported.
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The London native spent many years in his hometown of Spokane, Washington, where she ran a ballet school of her own for 34 years and raised two children.
Her daughter told the Post that even in her 90s, Sollom Williams still loved keeping fit, and often attended exercise classes in her retirement home.
But once those stopped in March due to the pandemic, watching Balance Gym members and trainers working out on the roof next door became her go-to source of inspiration and entertainment.
“The workouts were the one thing she kept bringing up on every phone call we had. She always remarks about how hard they’re working,” Wetenhall, a professor at George Washington University, told the Post. “In a way, this was a lifeline for her, to see people in motion. You think you’re doing something for yourself, but it’s really a thread of life that’s being extended to someone else.”
Williams recently saw the “Keep Moving” mural for the first time, and told the Post that she absolutely loves it.
“I hope it reminds people that they have to smile and stay determined,” she said. “Keep moving, no matter what.”