Most people didn’t believe it could be a gym. A renovated 1920’s schoolhouse, seriously? But it was a small town gym with a big dream and over-sized membership and the people who loved it loved it like it was their own creation. It was also the first step in my new career. I was referred by a parent at the school where I was still teaching that year. She was going to work in the child care center and put in a good word, and I was the lone personal trainer when we opened the following fall. My first real fitness related job also coincided with starting children’s classes that semester but I at least knew how to teach kids, I just had to translate that to fitness instruction. This little gym helped me learn how to be a trainer and how to serve adults. The family of trainers and staff steadily grew over the years and so did membership, as well as the camaraderie and support system.
That place led me to inspirational people. There was a part-time fitness floor employee who caught the workout bug, turned it into several certifications and a prolific fitness instructor career and then parlayed it into the director position. She is fun, inspiring, and formidable. She kept that place running for as long as it did. And she has had a sidekick, a retired firefighter with a fire for the clients, who also adopted them and the cause. They became the heart of that branch and will be until the last day of operation. And then they’ll take their heart to the next place because there’s no way their fitness related stories end there.
I also met and had the pleasure of training some great people, including a woman who has been a treasure beyond description in my life. We’ve remained friends, worked together in my job capacity and hers, cared for each other’s kids and families. Some of the members were older citizens and teaching an active older adult class was never dull. Those people have some stories! New moms losing baby weight, surgical recovery patients ready for harder workouts, people of every age just trying to be better than the day before. I worked with many of them.
This was also a place for families. There was a child care center with equally dedicated employees where members could drop their kids while they participated in classes or worked out in the gym. There were countless activities for kids too- fitness classes, sports, cheerleading, tumbling, swim lessons, martial arts, summer camps, and more...and for crying out loud, SANTA himself had a party there every year! My kids loved the activities they did there but they also loved just coming with me and hanging out it the “haunted classroom” doing homework.
Though it’s been years since I have been associated with it, I’m crushed to hear this particular YMCA is closing. It was the little gym that could: overcoming space challenges, a smaller populated area, doubts from a lot of people (especially at first), swimming lessons with no pool, all while providing the upkeep and maintenance on an historic building. Sadly, the original agreement to lease the property with the local authorities is not longer to the town’s liking. And so it happens that they will close their doors at the end of June. It feels like Parrish is losing a member of the family. I think they’ll miss it dearly. With a membership number and spirit that overshadowed the tiny physical space I can’t be the saddest among their family, but I can tell you I’ll always appreciate what that place meant to me and my family for many years.