NEW GLOUCESTER — Those who saw Mary Jo Cressy take her first Nordic ski lesson were in awe.

And who could blame them?

Cressy is 103 years old.

Her ski lesson at Pineland Farms last week was simply the latest adventure for a woman who was water-skiing into her 80s and working out at a Curves fitness center at 97 to rehabilitate a broken hip.

“She is 103. And she was just really calm. She was not scared even when her legs slipped from under her. What courage she has,” said Kristina Sabasteanski, who runs the adaptive ski program for veterans at Pineland Farms.

Jo Jo, as Cressy is known, is stooped over and needs the aid of a walker to maneuver. Although she might appear feeble, she says she is 4 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 104 pounds. And make no mistake, she remains an inquisitive and spirited woman.

“I think that’s a good weight for someone my size,” she said with a nod after being asked her height and weight.

At her lesson last week, Cressy skied for most of 45 minutes, a third of it on her own with Sabasteanski holding a safety belt for assurance.

“You were doing that all by yourself,” Sabasteanski informed her.

Cressy was delighted. Then again, this was her goal.

“I was? Good for me,” Cressy said.

To Cressy’s extended family, she has been a proud, independent role model and an inspiration for a century.

“You’re talking about 1912 (the year of Cressy’s birth). You have to stop and remember for a second everything she’s seen,” said her granddaughter, Joan McBurnie. “To think she went from picking up a telephone and talking to an operator to wanting to understand a cellphone. All the things we take for granted, she’s seen it all.

“And she sets the marker high. She was very, very competitive with her sister, Frannie. They loved each other, but were very competitive before Frannie died at 107. Jo Jo will live to be 108 just to beat Frannie.”

BROKEN HIPS AND REHABILITATION

Born in Beverly, Massachusetts, Mary Jo Sibley worked as a physical education teacher and married Clayton Cressy, a newspaperman in her hometown.

After Clayton returned from military service in World War II, the couple moved to Fryeburg and ran a five-and-dime store, Cressy said. There, on Lovell Pond, she learned to water ski – a sport she enjoyed into her 80s.

After selling the store, the couple retired to Florida. When her husband died, Cressy moved back to Fryeburg to live with family. But she didn’t stay still for long. At 72 she married her brother-in-law, Earl Cressy, and moved to Oceanside, California, where they lived until his death 10 years later. Then Cressy returned to Fryeburg, buying a house on Lovell Pond.

She got a German shepherd and became so well-known for walking her dog around town that she was named the grand marshal of the Fryeburg Fourth of July parade.

“I remember everyone said, ‘What are you doing? She’s 87 and has that big dog,’ ” said McBurnie, who got Cressy the German shepherd. “I said, ‘You don’t know my grandmother. She will outlive that dog.’ Well, she did, and then she outlived her next dog, a Shih Tzu.”

When Cressy broke her hip at age 97, she simply went to physical therapy and rehabilitated it at the local Curves. She broke the other hip soon after, and rehabilitated it with no fuss, too, McBurnie said.

Jo Jo Cressy has six great-grandchildren and three small great-great-grandchildren.

“She’s a special person,” said Ella Cressy, who is married to Cressy’s grandson, Mike. “She’s gone back and forth across the country and up and down to Florida changing her life. She loves it.”

Cressy shared bits and pieces of her life while eating lunch at Pineland Farms before her ski lesson. She looked up and smiled at her great-granddaughter, Carrie Cressy, who came to see her ski.

“I’ve lived an interesting life, haven’t I?” Jo Jo asked with a wink.

It was only after falling out of bed and breaking her shoulder at age 101 that Cressy moved to an assisted living center. But even there, she doesn’t sit still.

“She walks the halls every day, sometimes twice,” said Laura McBey, a physical therapist at the Bridgton Health & Residential Care Center. “She is definitely feisty.”

While working with Cressy, McBey learned of her ambition to try cross-country skiing. Sabasteanski, the Pineland Farms ski instructor, works part time at the care center.

“One of the physical therapists told me it was on her bucket list. Well, if I can help a 103-year-old woman learn to ski, I’m going to do it,” said Sabasteanski, who represented the U.S. as a biathlete in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics.

Sabasteanski used adaptive ski equipment – a tall walker set on skis – for Cressy’s lesson. With frail hands and fingernails painted purple, Cressy grabbed the handles of the device from a lawn chair she sat in at the edge of the snow-covered field. Three other volunteers helped hoist her up onto wide skis.

After several runs followed quickly by rests in the lawn chair, the team swapped out the adaptive ski equipment for a shorter walker that Sabasteanski had attached to a pair of skis.

That suited Cressy better. Within minutes, she found her rhythm.

Soon the 10 volunteers and onlookers dropped back behind Cressy, watching rather than holding her up.

‘SHE IS MY NEW INSPIRATION’

Over the course of 45 minutes, Cressy covered roughly 100 yards. Sabasteanski held a belt around Cressy’s waist to make sure she didn’t fall, while other volunteers followed close behind with the lawn chair for her to rest.

But Cressy never stopped for long.

“Look at those people ski,” she said, looking longingly across the field at three skiers. “Don’t I wish I was out there skiing.”

“You are,” Sabasteanski said.

“I am,” Cressy agreed. “OK. Let’s go.” And then she was up at it again, moving her legs back and forth in oversized boots strapped tightly onto small skis.

When Cressy finally returned to the van that had brought her to Pineland Farms, she settled back into her wheelchair, exhausted, and looked up at the crowd around her.

So how did she like her first ski lesson? “That? Oh, I do that all the time,” Cressy quipped, triggering laughs all around.

As she was lifted into the van, Cressy flashed a peace sign to her new friends.

“I was so impressed by her amazing attitude. She had this vision of what she wanted to do,” Sabasteanski said. “When she got tired she said, ‘How far do you want me to go?’ And I said, ‘How far would you like to go?’ And she said, ‘I had my eye on that corner.’ She had this goal, at 103, of how far she wanted to ski. She is my new inspiration.”

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