In the Swim
Former newscaster Jenny Crimm shares her passion for fitness.
Jenny Crimm strides to the edge of the pool and gingerly sticks a toe in. Finding the water to be a satisfactory 86 degrees, she smiles and invites the women gathered nearby to join her in the shallow end.
For 22 years, northeast Ohio audiences tuned in to watch Crimm co-host “Good Morning, Cleveland” and deliver the noon newscast on WEWS-TV 5. But in 1998, the affable anchor decided the time had come to bid adieu to broadcasting and focus on sharing her lifelong love of the water.
A certified American Red Cross swimming instructor, who also trained with the Arthritis Foundation, Crimm, 66, spends summer mornings at the Westlake Recreation Center. She teaches Theraquatics, a low-impact exercise class she developed to soothe aching back muscles and joints plagued by arthritis. Twice a week, her students — who call themselves Jenny’s Doll-Fins –– eagerly congregate for fun, camaraderie and the chance to work out to the eclectic musical medleys Crimm creates for each fitness session.
“Swimming is a total stress reliever,” she says, while demonstrating the Crimm Crawl, a combination breast stroke-side stroke move she invented 15 years ago while suffering from a ruptured disc. It’s designed, she explains, to help people with severe rotator cuff problems navigate the water without having to lift their head and shoulders.
“And being in the pool,” Crimm adds, “is not only good for my body, it’s good for my brain. Whenever a problem is nagging at me and I don’t know how to solve it, I do my laps. Maybe it’s because more blood is circulating, or those feel-good endorphins are kicking in. Whatever the reason, I come out rejuvenated.”
Her students agree.
“We love this class,” says Jean Sabo, 78, who’s been a member since Crimm began teaching it 10 years ago. “Jenny has helped make my golden years more golden.” The Westlake resident, who suffered a hip fracture in 2006, credits Theraquatics with getting her back on her feet.
“I can’t go for long walks like I used to,” Sabo explains. “Jenny provides the support and encouragement I need to keep moving.”
Retired teacher Norma Rike, 84, admits that she was one of those couch potatoes who, when they had the urge to exercise, would lie down and let it pass. But not anymore. Rike, who also lives in Westlake, underwent heart bypass surgery five years ago. She shudders while recalling the rigorous rehabilitation period that followed.
“I hated the treadmills I had to walk, and the bicycles I had to ride,” she says. “Thanks to Jenny, when my doctor asks if I have an exercise routine, I can truthfully tell him that yes, I do. It’s a real treat to be here.”
And the payoff is mutual.
“I’m not in it for the salary,” says Crimm, who donates her earnings from the class to the Arthritis Foundation. “I’m in it for the stimulation and satisfaction. When I see people with canes and walkers getting into the pool, people who have had knee replacements and hip replacements being able to move, that’s really the ultimate reward.
“It’s been so much fun going from the airwaves to making waves. I’ve never looked back.”
With her 8-year-old toy poodle, Sunshine, nestled in lap, Crimm sips ice water and nibbles on a Pepperidge Farm chocolate Pirouette as she pages through the leather scrapbook that chronicles her 30-year career in broadcasting. She pauses at photos of two childhood heroes she got the chance to meet: Buffalo Bob Smith, creator and star of the 1950s show, “Howdy Doody,” and orchestra leader Lawrence Welk, whose waltzes and polkas, Crimm admits, were a far cry from the bebop and rock tunes her friends listened to.
“I know, I know,” she says with a laugh. “My parents always watched Lawrence Welk on TV when I was growing up, and I loved the music. That’s probably why I appealed to so many older viewers. The irony is that I never play his songs at the pool. I’ve discovered all the fun stuff I should have been listening to as a kid –– with a little of today’s country-western thrown in the mix because it has great beats to exercise to.”
There are also pictures of the fresh-faced rookie interviewing a sultry Ann-Margret; riding alongside Dick Van Dyke in the “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” car during filming of the movie in England; gazing up at Steve McQueen on the set of “The Thomas Crown Affair”; and chatting with Lady Bird Johnson while visiting her Texas ranch.
“Sometimes when I look through this book,” Crimm reflects, “it doesn’t seem like this really is about my life. It’s more like it was someone else, and I watched it happen.”
While growing up in Sidney, Ohio, Rebecca Crimm never imagined a life in front of the camera. The shy girl who panicked at the thought of raising her hand in class had decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a surgeon, or perhaps pursue a degree in social work.
But during her freshman year at Michigan State University, Crimm became friends with students who were majoring in broadcasting. She quickly fell in love with the field.
“Being able to create and write your own scripts,” Crimm says, “is like having this little child of an idea and watching it grow into an adult, even if it’s only a minute and a half long.
“My adviser tried to talk me out of broadcasting, saying that I didn’t have the voice for it. But I continued, figuring that even if I never got a job, at least I could enjoy majoring in it.”
While putting the finishing touches on the 200 resumes she was preparing to mail following her college graduation, Crimm got a call from the news director at Cincinnati’s NBC affiliate, WLWT. He made her an offer to join the station’s reporting staff.
“You could have scraped me off the ceiling,” she recalls. “Kids today all want to be stars, but I did not. I wanted to do production, writing, anything behind the scenes. But, once I got that first on-air job, nobody has been able to shut me up — yakety, yakety, yakety.”
Despite the fact that she was the first female to work in the WLWT newsroom, Crimm is quick to add that she never felt at odds with her male colleagues.
“I was always treated like an equal,” she says. “They never made me just cover the stereotypical domestic do-gooder stories. Instead, my bosses sent me out on everything and anything. It was a great training ground. You got paid practically nothing, but you couldn’t have paid for that experience.”
Over the years, Crimm’s career path led to stops at Cleveland’s WJW-TV Channel 8 (where she adopted her grandmother’s nickname, Jenny, as her moniker), Chicago and San Francisco. Assignments ranged from hobnobbing with Hollywood royalty to interviewing plane crash survivors to covering heiress Patty Hearst, who was on trial for bank robbery. She also spoke with President Gerald Ford moments before the second assassination attempt was made on his life.
“My first question to him was whether or not he had changed his mind about gun control,” Crimm recalls. “And he said, no, that despite the fact someone had tried to shoot him earlier that month, he still believed that we have to control the criminals, rather than the guns. As we were packing up our gear at the hotel following the taping in San Francisco, we heard a big commotion downstairs. What happened was unbelievable.”
The story, along with Crimm’s conversation with the commander-in-chief, was heard around the world. Veteran newsman Walter Cronkite led with her interview on “The CBS Evening News.”
“It was,” she says, “one of the most memorable moments of my life.”
Crimm reminisces with fondness about the years she spent at Channel 5 and the colleagues who have become friends.
“But,” she adds, “you’ve got to know when to fold ’em. Newscasters were becoming cookie-cutter, and I didn’t fit that mold.”
Crimm was also weary of the fact that she had no life. Her duties on “Good Morning, Cleveland” led to an early-to-bed-much-too-early-to-rise routine that was become increasingly harder to follow.
“I’d have to go to bed before the kids in the neighborhood did, so that I could get up and head downtown at 3:15 in the morning,” she says. “Whenever I’d try to sleep, I’d hear everyone out there living.”
Crimm eased into retirement. A year before taking the plunge, she cut her hours at Channel 5. She also purchased a condo in North Redington Beach, Florida, the Gulf Coast town that was the setting for many family vacations during her childhood. Now, it’s her home base seven months out of the year.
“Working part-time was a wonderful transition,” she says. “And buying the condo was pure nostalgia for me. Every time I’m there, I think of the good times I shared with my parents and sister.”
Not to mention, Crimm adds, that wintering in Florida is sheer bliss.
“At this stage of my life,” she says, “I’d much rather shovel sand than snow.”
For the last hour, Jenny’s Doll-Fins have been gently strutting their stuff to hits by Nancy Sinatra, the Mamas and the Papas, Jan and Dean, Jackie DeShannon and the Beach Boys. Now, it’s time to cool down. To accompany Millie Small’s rendition of “My Boy Lollipop,” the last song of the morning, Crimm passes out Tootsie Pops. Plans are hatched for lunch. Last month, the gang went to Houlihan’s. Today, Olive Garden sounds good. “We’re a group,” says their teacher with a laugh, “who just loves to eat.”
It’s easy to see why Crimm considers the last decade to be one of rebirth.
“I’ve found a new sense of purpose and creativity,” she says about the classes.
“And,” Crimm adds, “I’ve learned that you don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.”