Coming from a Lake Wobegon culture of Wisconsin farm families, where bailing hay, cutting timber, and loading trucks was the norm, the idea of “working out” was a foreign concept. The saying, “if you have to ‘work out,’ you aren’t working hard enough,” was said often and with grit. I only knew one person who exercised—and he was a physician. And people talked and wondered about him—the way one might wonder about the behavior of an alien.
But I Had a Dream
I wanted to look like those wafting, caramel-skinned Chanel models wearing white swimsuits that crisscrossed over all the right places while I walked the beach with a light breeze breathing across my shoulders. This was not the dream of a Wisconsinite. In that “neck of the woods,” skin is a protected species. Although plentiful in the dairy land of ice cream, whole milk, deep-fried cheese curds, and beer, skin was rarely seen—as it would be frostbitten and fall off during the nearly 10 months of shiver-inducing temps. And very few women could wear a white near-bikini without being arrested and/or frightfully falling to pieces. Although I too had fit that bill—and was more than 20 pounds overweight as a teen—I refused to let my dream die. So I decided that the only way I’d be able to get my pasty-white, untoned body into my dream state was to do something different—something that no one else did.
At 16-years-old, I joined “The Y”
My first experience with regular exercise was joining and working at the YMCA as a sophomore in high school. I couldn’t afford it, so I also took a job teaching swimming lessons to pay for my membership. In later years, I learned that the policy at the Y is to be flexible with pricing so that more people can enjoy the benefits of exercise in an ethical environment. Joining the Y was a supportive, growing experience for me, and helped me get on-track to a regular exercise routine, which has benefitted me in countless ways over the years. Just knowing that I had a place to exercise that was safe, comfortable, clean, well-managed, and family-oriented (no hulky guys looming over the ladies) gave me a sense of stability that meant even more than earning my new “beach bod.”
Why the Y?
When I joined, I didn’t know why the Y was better than any of the other 24-hour-pump-it-up places, but I was in for a delightful surprise.Pretty and clean, the machines were always working and the people that worked there were kind—they nurtured the kind of agape love and supportive friendship that I had read about but not experienced. The three principles of the Y—healthy living, youth development, and social responsibility—were apparent through the various programs, and also the attitudes of the staff and members. And with people of all ages participating in activities together, I had the opportunity to talk, have fun and learn with children, older teenagers, parents, and elders. Here is an overview of what the Y has to offer:
Health and Fun Through the Ages
Children can experience a wide variety of fun and development through programs like home-schooled PE classes, martial arts, soccer, and summer day camps.
Teenagers can take classes to promote hobbies, community or spirituality, exercise on machines, lift weights, read in the periodicals library, or hang out in the video game room (where available). The Y is also part of project “Safe Place,” where teenagers can go to get help if they are experiencing trauma and abuse at home. Mentors are available for kids in foster care and custody situations—and also just for “regular kids” like you and me, who can benefit from being around mentors with good character.
College-aged and traveling members also receive the benefits of the 2,700 facilities located nationwide, other sites located in 119 countries worldwide, and five centers right here in Knoxville. Once a member, all of the Y’s facilities are available for use at no extra fee. And, should a member be traveling for an extended period where no Y is present, membership may be suspended and restarted upon return home, with no additional fees.
Parents can count on the Y for safe childcare that includes fun activities and kind caregivers. With that peace of mind, exercise can become fun and refreshing “me time.” Parents can take a much-needed break from work to run the big, oval circuit on the upper deck overlooking the pool, swim laps, attend group cardio, participate in a class, lift free weights, or use a machine. Family dressing rooms allow for young children to remain in their parents’ care while changing.
Elder members enjoy more activities and programs than at any other gym in the nation. Providing as much community activity and camaraderie as it does exercise, the Y becomes more integrated in the emotional health and well-being of these members. Classes like Silver Sneakers low-impact aerobics, longevity programs, line dancing, and card games are some favorite activities!
The YMCA offers many and varied programs to support complete well-being of all its members,
as highlighted below. Check your local Y for programs that interest you, or better yet, volunteer in any of the programs so you can give and receive!
Personal Training is available for all ages, is affordable—with hourly and package sessions like $31/hr for 24 sessions at Knoxville branches, is customizable to each person’s health and abilities, and is adaptable for recovery after medical procedures.
Pool time! In addition to regular lap-swimming, play-time, and swimming lessons, members can use the pool to heal after surgeries, receive cardiovascular exercise, and enjoy both low and high-impact aerobics classes. Professional swimming lessons are also available to people of all ages, as well as water safety training and swim stroke clinics to “brush up” on efficiency and technique.
Community Gardening is one of the many mentoring programs that provide a fun and safe way for youth to learn—in this case, about soil, planting and growth, and enjoying the “fruits” of their labor!
After School Care picks up children from school and brings them to the Y, where they can get help with homework and enjoy programs in nutrition, crafts, music, and dance, as well as benefit from unstructured play until their parents pick them up at 6:00 p.m. This service is provided at an additional fee of approximately $75-100 per week, with a discount for multiple children, and financial assistance is available.
Yoga, Pilates and various aerobic activities have become more popular at the Y over the past decade. With both morning and evening classes at both low-impact and high-intensity levels, there is something for everyone.
Community programs like line dancing and card games like bridge and mahjong offer carefree ways to exercise hearts, minds, and smiles.
Longevity! These programs help members to prevent, manage and heal from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other so-called “chronic” diseases—all within the supportive community atmosphere of a highly-trained staff leader guiding members in similar situations.
Fees for membership range from $50/month for single and $75/month for family memberships.
The Test of Time
2017 marks the 160th year that the YMCA has been serving communities like ours in the United States. Founded in London in 1844 by George Williams, the Y has proven that its holistic approach to well-being works. The Y’s logo is the third most recognized name and logo in the world. It gained an even wider acclaim in 1978, when the McBurney YMCA, established in 1869 and located in New York, New York, was featured by the Village People for their music video, titled “YMCA.” (If you moved your arms to the shapes as you read that, you know the tune.) Written to honor the programs that made the Young Man’s Christian Association famous and got men off the streets and into low-cost housing with a common purpose of Christian camaraderie, this smash hit recording is still heard at discos and around the world. I can attest to this, as I heard it played in a taxi in Malaysia in 2004.
As for my personal progress at the Y since my teenage years, I lost thirty pounds, became a certified swim instructor and lifeguard and discovered the joys of physical discipline. Although I never did model for Chanel, I did don a crisscross swimsuit. And overall, these accolades increased my confidence and capability to do physical tasks, and to wear whatever I wanted—without worry. Currently, I enjoy being a member at the Davis YMCA on Northshore Drive. Miss Vicki trains my muscles three times a week to keep me beach-ready, and is showing me how to safely strengthen my knee after an injury. I exercise five days a week while enjoying the kind and supportive staff, the equipment, pool, and classes like yoga. Now that I am “all grown up” and working as a willpower guru, I help people enjoy life more through kind self-discipline. And the Y and my background with it take on a whole new meaning. I can give back to the world—just like the Y gave, and still gives, to me.
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