The celebrity trainer says to look beyond Hollywood for motivation.

By Faith Brar
Updated November 16, 2020

Harley Pasternak has spent years training iconic celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ariana Grande. But his biggest inspiration isn't a household name; it's Risa Igelfeld, his 103-year-old neighbor who never misses a day of her workout routine.

In a recent Instagram post, Pasternak shared a video of Igelfeld crushing sets of shoulder presses, front presses, and arm circles with a 2-pound dumbbell in each hand and a huge grin across her face.

"This incredible woman is our neighbor," Pasternak wrote in the caption. "We try and visit her every few days to give her love and support, but we are in fact the ones who leave smiling ear to ear, inspired, full of life lessons." (Related: 4 Things I Learned from Trying Harley Pasternak's Body Reset Diet)

During their get-togethers, Igelfeld, a retired music teacher, often plays piano for Pasternak and his kids or tells them about what the world was like before the internet, cars, and phones. But it's her unwavering positivity that inspires Pasternak and his family to make the most of her company.

"She's just an incredible woman who is incredibly positive," he tells Shape. "Her entire life she's been active. She used to run, bike, and swim — up until recently and now she goes for a walk and weight trains at home." (Related: 85-Year-Old Woman Makes History Racing Against Men In 100-Meter Dash)

"She's adopted us and we've adopted her," adds Pasternak.

For Pasternak, Igelfeld's company is a breath of fresh air. Despite her difficult upbringing — she lost her mother to the Spanish flu, survived two world wars, and has faced "xenophobia [and] antisemitism" throughout her life, Pasternak wrote on Instagram — she's always remained positive.

"She's an inspiration because I work with a lot of very privileged people every day and I'm very lucky to do so," Pasternak tells Shape. "They're all able-bodied people who have everything at their fingertips. But they still find reasons why they can't work out or make their step goal for the day. There's every excuse in the world."

Igelfeld spent her life doing the opposite, says Pasternak. She never gives up on her goals and always makes being active and mobile a priority. "She's contagious, smiling all the time, with not one complaint in the world," he says. (Related: Watch This 72-Year-Old Woman Achieve Her Goal of Doing a Pull-Up)

What inspires her, you might ask? "She works out because it feels good," Pasternak says. "She loves life. Not just living long, but living well. She's a reminder that you don't just want to survive, you want to thrive, which is exactly what she does."