YMCA Ventura: Why I will miss it

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This evening, I have to say goodbye to some really great people. Thanks to my deteriorating spine, I have had to make a few changes with my life and one of those involves saying goodbye to the people at the YMCA in Ventura where for the last three months, I have had the pleasure of working in their wellness center and teaching an evening fitness class.

When you reach a point where you have to time your day around taking Vicodin with the hope it eases the multiple symptoms that play havoc with you, it’s a good idea to rethink your day. For three months, I have been trying to balance three different part time jobs, each of which I enjoy tremendously, but none of which I absolutely have to do. Unfortunately, by the late afternoon and evening, my spine is toast from being on the go all day. Something had to give and so I made the decision to leave my job at the Y.

When I was being trained to work at their wellness center, my boss, Sherry Maresca, sat me down and walked me through the process clients go through as if I was a new client. She asked me a series of background questions before getting to one that asked me about any physical problems I have. I asked her if she really wanted to hear the answer and she assured me she wanted to.

Normally, a client takes a few seconds to tell us they are feeling great and have no major issues. I could have lied and done the same, but I decided to come clean. I told Sherry of the accident I had eleven years ago and of the multitude of injuries I suffered and years of physical therapy I went through. I did not hold anything back.

When I was finished, I was ready to get my walking papers thinking she may not want to take on an employee with my problems to work with people who wanted to make a healthy change in their life style. Instead, she told me the opposite. She said she wanted me to share my story with clients as a way to give them encouragement to take back their lives. She actually thanked me for opening up like I did.

When you become a member of the Y, and by member, I do not mean just an employee, but when you join the Y, you gain a family. It is this family atmosphere that has the Y in Ventura booming with an assortment of members who range in age from toddlers to centenarians. The people you meet at the Y are the type of people who want to get to know as much as they can about you. They don’t walk around with their faces buried in their phones or with their ear buds blasting music. They love to make eye contact, say hello to you, and then stop and have a conversation. In other words, they are friendly.

Individuals like to join large chain gyms, families join the Y. You become close to the people there. I have followed the progress of people like Kay whose husband has been dealing with skin cancer that has claimed both of his ears. Ewelina, who lost her home last year in the Thomas fire and whose laughter is infectious. There is Debbie, whose bum foot is not going to keep her from taking the evening classes she enjoys so much. The three have been my regulars in my evening Focus class.

In the wellness center, I have had the pleasure of working with clients as young as eight and as old as dirt. I draw inspiration watching people in their nineties come in to lift weights and then tell you they can’t stop to talk because they have a swim class to get to. There are the cancer survivors who come in and begin to get their strength and lives, back after an ugly disease tried claiming it. There are the many men and women who ask me if I can work with them and show them some of the core exercises they saw me demonstrating to someone earlier.

There is Ashira, an aspiring writer I met. Each morning she comes in to work on her book. It takes just a minute with her to realize you are in the presence of a very special person.  I hope one day the world gets to learn more about her because she is such a positive human being.

Tony Mavros, my brother from another mother, and a fellow trainer at the Y has more energy and knowledge about fitness, than anyone I have ever met. I have enjoyed watching his fitness class and stealing ideas from him to use in mine.

To think, it has been just a mere three months working there and yet I have been touched by countless people from as many backgrounds as Ventura has to offer. No wonder the people who join the Y feel like they have a second home. Where else can you go to meet and get to know such a variety of wonderful humans?

The Y may not be for everyone. I have always been the type of person who prefers working out in the privacy of my gym in my garage. I have always taken the approach of working out is MY time and I prefer keeping it that way. However, the Y is more than a place to go work out. It offers moms free child care so they can get in a spin class, swim a few laps, or chat with a friend while walking on a treadmill. In others words, they get much needed sanity breaks.

It allows kids the opportunity to start a healthy lifestyle early in life by allowing them the chance to use gym equipment that large chains do not allow. They can also hang out in their teen center instead of running the streets or sit home alone. Adults are available to offer free tutoring and there are an endless amount of sports leagues to join.

For seniors, the Y offers up a social support system that makes growing older a joy. It is one of the few places left where an octogenarian or older can go and still feel important to people half their age. A person, no matter what their age, at the Y will always have their dignity because as a member there, they are family and as such, they are cherished.

The next time you decide to go shopping for a place to work out, take a pass on the big name chains and do yourself a favor and give the Y a try. You may just find what you need is more than a gym, which is why the Y in Ventura is such a great place.