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Family finds fitness and much more at YMCA

January 12, 2020

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, November 27, 2019

Healthy living is a core value in our family. When we relocated, from Boulder, Colorado, we considered a number of communities in New England, before deciding to move to Northampton, MA. We were attracted by the extensive network of bike paths, abundance of local food production, access to forests and trails, a culture of higher learning, and a multitude of resources for raising a family.

Still, during our early years in Northampton, Lori and I struggled with the reality that raising two young children, Zoe and Adam, in the absence of local friendships or family, was challenging. In particular, finding ways to remain physically active – something Lori and I had come to take for granted while living in the outdoor recreational mecca of Boulder – was essential to our well-being and sanity.

Fortunately, Northampton is home to the Hampshire Regional YMCA. Once we learned that Y membership included access to free child care – through the Child Watch program and its experienced, well-trained providers – we quickly decided the cost of membership was a worthy addition to our frugal, family budget.

It was not long before Lori and I came to appreciate that the Y focused more broadly on healthy living, including spirit, mind and body, and was not just a place to exercise. So, over the years, in addition to regular cardio workouts in the gym and laps in the pool, we have enjoyed yoga and meditation classes, family mindfulness retreats at the Y’s summer camp facility, and blissful sits in the steam room during long New England winters. As a bonus, since Y memberships include reciprocal benefits with many YMCA’s in the U.S., Lori and I have exercised – for no additional cost – at other Y’s in Massachusetts as well as in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Florida and Illinois, when traveling for work or visiting family.

As Zoe and Adam, teen and tween respectively, have aged, they have increasingly benefitted from the Y’s focus on youth develop, including swim lessons, open gym, open swim, the youth lounge and gymnastics program. These activities have offered a positive, social setting to develop their growing bodies, build friendships, and be part of a larger community committed to wellness.

One of the greatest – and unexpected – benefits of the Y, for Lori and I, is the way the center acts as a hub for social connection. Every visit to the Y offers an opportunity for brief yet enriching connection with friends, kids of all ages, other parents, professional colleagues, and acquaintances, reminding us that we are part of a larger community committed to healthy living. And for many years, Lori has taught Pilates classes at the Y, offering her both a circle of colleagues and connection to many throughout the community.

Recently our family participated in the Y’s 8th Annual 5k Run. The weather was glorious, mid-40’s and sunshine, with colorful, fallen leaves underfoot as we paced our way along the bike path and looped around picturesque Look Park. Lori and Zoe helped set-up for the event. Zoe, along with friends from the Y gymnastics team stationed themselves on the course to cheer runners and walkers. Lori, who has recently returned to running, logged her best 5k time in decades. Adam and I ran together, and he out sprinted me at the end to log a personal best time.

After the course cleared, we gathered inside to hear race results. More importantly, the race director shared words about the Y community and the importance of the event. I was astonished to learn that in the prior year, the Y had devoted over $270,000 toward scholarships and discounted memberships, in order to help make the Y accessible to even more children and families.

I left the event with even greater appreciation for all the Y has to offer. Initially we joined the Y as a place to workout, but we’ve chosen to stay for the many ways it helps us sustain a healthy lifestyle, including connection to the community we now call home.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website

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