The sun is rising over the field at Cubberley Community Center and frost still covers the grass. About 20 early-morning exercisers are karaoke-stepping around the track, pausing at each bend for a round of weight lifting.
Participants in this 7 a.m. "boot camp" — nearly all in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even 80s — gather Monday through Friday, year round, rain or shine. Several recently marked their 20th anniversary of exercising together, sustaining an early-morning fellowship that has survived shifting corporate management and even a change in location.
"We've celebrated milestone 50th anniversaries and 60th and 80th birthdays," said 20-year boot camper Barbara Binder, 57, a Menlo Park financial planner.
"We've marveled from afar at the courage and endurance of some of our fellow exercisers when they hiked all 210 miles of the John Muir Trail when they were just short of their 70th birthdays. We've had baby showers, attended memorial services, and had many dinners and coffees together, just because."
Though newcomers are welcomed and encouraged, some of the boot campers go back as far as 1997, when they first became acquainted at Community BootCamp at Stanford. Two decades later they've migrated to Cubberley and continue their morning workouts under the coaching of Michael Granville, a former All-American track star at UCLA and sometimes stand-up comic.
"Being outside is just so awesome," said 18-year boot camper Lisa Schmidt of Los Altos Hills, who brings her mutt, Sealy, to exercise class on Fridays. "It's become part of my routine, and I've made the greatest friends. Michael keeps it fun — if we don't have a good hard laugh at boot camp, something's wrong."
The group's resolve was tested in 2015 when managers of the boot camp — which had been sold to the New York-based corporate wellness company Optum — announced they planned to suspend the Stanford program.
Boot campers rallied around Granville, who'd been hired in 2006 as the early-morning coach, urging him to establish his own business to keep the exercise sessions going. To get him started they volunteered their professional expertise: a lawyer setting up a limited liability corporation and others helping with accounting, taxes, website, marketing and making sure he secured insurance for himself and his family through the Affordable Care Act.
"There was so much support and it just spiraled," said Granville, tears welling up as he recalled the group effort.
Granville — who trains a wide variety of age groups in different venues — adapts his routines to meet varying fitness levels. A 50-year-old in the 7 a.m. group might run a six-minute mile while an 80-year-old walks. And he works in some comedy, recounting antics of his two young sons as boot-campers are holding a two-minute plank pose.
"People can go off and be competitive or not, but still not feel like they're holding the group down," Granville said. "Maybe you don't feel like doing a six-minute mile, or you just want to walk that day."
Several boot campers, including Jim Schlatter of Menlo Park, said they initially joined for health reasons. "I was trying to lower my cholesterol and blood pressure and figure out how to get some exercise," Schlatter said. That was nearly 20 years ago.
"The doctor said 'You can have medication or you can see if you can change it with diet and exercise,' and that worked for a number of years," he said. "I got hooked, and you kind of miss it if you're not there," said Schlatter, now 72, who exercises with his wife, Mary.
"I knew I needed to do some exercise too and he was enjoying it," said Mary Schlatter, who joined five months after her husband, in August 1998.
Adi Gamon was a software CEO seeking an exercise program he could sustain when his wife suggested boot camp in the fall of 1997.
"I'd tried all kinds of things — various gyms — and nothing stuck," recalled Gamon, now 67. When he first tried boot camp he was unable to complete the running, crunches and push-ups. "I couldn't finish a mile and a half and I was really suffering with the push-ups and crunches but I said, 'Well, I'll come back tomorrow.'
"It got easier and it became addictive," Gamon said. "Now my biological clock is set for it and I try to come every day. I do believe I'm in better form today than I was 20 years ago and, at my age, that's not a trivial statement."
Gamon added that, for him, boot camp is "the perfect storm of a lot of good things" — a guided and structured exercise program, sociability and being outdoors.
Twenty-year boot camper Bruce Heister of Palo Alto was among the three 7 a.m. exercisers who hiked the John Muir Trail back in 2005. "A few of us started talking about things that were on our to-do list and she (former boot camper Ruth Kasle, now of San Francisco) said she'd really like to do the John Muir Trail before she turned 70.
That August three boot campers, then ages 49, 68 and 69, completed the hike in 27 days, with supply-delivery support from the rest of the group.
"We got it down to 10 miles a day," Heister recalled.
"Your boot camp fitness helped you do that," added Lisa Golden who, at 49, is on the younger end of Granville's 7 a.m. group.
On the older end is 11-year boot camper Cole Wilbur, who has celebrated his 80th birthday and attends about four days a week.
"I like the exercise and the way it makes me feel," Wilbur said in an email. "I like the variety of different exercises and they way they improve my body from head to toe."
For older people aspiring to become more fit but not knowing how to start, Wilbur said he would advise, "Join Michael's G-FIT and do as many exercises as possible. Do not worry if you cannot perform as well as some of the slightly younger members."
With older exercisers, Granville said, he particularly focuses on balance and joint strength.
"We all lose our balance, but if we work on footwork and agility it gives people more options to recover before falling," he said. "I've had people say, 'Thank you for those burpees —I didn't see the curb and I started to fall, but I caught myself.'
"For people who haven't exercised in awhile, it's not too late," Granville added. "If it were a capsule and it took one hour to work and it made your aches and pains go away and your heart and your cholesterol better, everybody would take it. As you age, it's not too late to start and you will see the benefits."
For more information about boot camp go to granvillefit.com.