Stella Goren is only about 4-foot-10, but she packs a strong punch.
It all started when she was turning 79, and her husband asked what she wanted for her birthday.
"I'd like to work out at a gym with a personal trainer," Goren told him.
In spite of thinking she was meshugge and assuming this wouldn't last, her husband gave his wife of 45 years what she wanted.
"I was very happy," Sam Goren recalled. "I didn't have to go out and buy her a present."
It turned out to be the perfect gift. Goren has been working out at the In Training Fitness Center in Hollywood, and loving it, for the past five years.
"Most exercise classes for seniors have you sitting in a chair and you bend down, you lift your arms, you turn your head," Goren said. "The teachers don't really push you and there's no weight training. This makes sense, because you can get injured if you aren't with a real trainer. But I wanted to build up my muscles and bones."
Well, Goren wanted to be pushed -- and she got it.
Her personal trainer is Stan Ward, a champion heavyweight boxer who was recently inducted into the California State Boxing Hall of Fame. It's obvious that he really likes and admires Stella Goren.
"When you see an 80-year-old lady come into the gym and she has an attitude of 'Yeah, I can do that,' and then she does it, that's impressive," Ward said. "There are several people in the gym, much younger than she is who don't have half her gumption to do half of the things she does. In fact, when she was there six months, everyone was appalled at how well she was doing. 'She can't do that. How's she doing that?'"
Indeed, Ward was so impressed with Goren's stamina, attitude and coordination that he thought she could handle something more -- something like boxing.
"When he asked if I wanted to try boxing, I said sure," Goren recalled, "and it's been great. What I really like is that you can get out all of your aggressions."
Goren did make one stipulation when she began her boxing training: "I can hit, but they can't hit me back. I'm not stupid -- I don't want to get hurt. I do, however, get hit in the nose sometimes when I work out with the speed ball by myself."
Goren's background might have suggested the possibility of beginning to box at 81 years old.
She grew up in New Haven, Conn., the middle child of three girls. But she had a special role in the family.
"I had a brother that died in the flu epidemic," she said. "I became the boy of the family; I was my father's son. He taught me to do electrical and plumbing repairs, and I was driving his truck at 14."
When the United States entered World War II, Goren joined the Marines. What she learned in that training, as well as her willingness to take on a challenge, apparently emerged when she came to the gym.
"She's definitely a Marine," Ward said. "She's in it 100 percent. She refuses to quit; she doesn't give an inch. Once she sets her mind to something, she gets it done."
The payoff for all of her hard work has been tremendous, Goren said.
"Everybody knows me at the gym," she said. "I walk in, and I'm greeted -- 'Hi love.' 'Hi champ.' I feel so loved and like a ganser macher -- like a big shot."
Goren's husband, Sam, who at 81 runs several miles a day, is very impressed with his wife's accomplishments.
"She's become younger, in her thinking and talking," he said. "And she tries to keep me in line by telling me about all the adulation she gets from the young men at the gym."
Before she started her physical training at 79, Goren already had a wonderful hobby. In fact, a visit to her home is like touring an art gallery. Every wall and every shelf is filled with fabulous paintings, sculptures and quilts that Goren has created.
"The day I turned 62," she said, "I retired from my work as a secretary and started taking art classes at Westside JCC. Now I spend more time working out and boxing."
Ward said Goren inspires him.
"Because of the vivaciousness she has and how she conducts herself, people don't look at her as if she is old," he said. "If you go around like you're on your last leg, you will stimulate people's negative views of what old people will be like. She is the opposite. She dances and she has fun. She always comes into the gym with a smile; everyone loves her. She's a wonderful person."
Goren said that working out has truly changed her.
"You can really see the difference from when I showed up the first time and how I am now," she said. "I was very timid. I'm much more outgoing now, and that is a very new feeling for me. I actually feel confident for the first time in my life."
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