Get Fit

The Herald | Get Fit

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Story by Candy Neal
Photos by Marlena Sloss

The Tri-County YMCA never completely shuts down. In the wee hours of the morning, before the doors officially open at 5 a.m., exercisers are using the Ferdinand-based facility’s workout room, working up a sweat.

Y staffer Mary Uebelhor can see them when she walks up at 4:45 a.m. to enter the building. She does a walkthrough of the different rooms inside, and makes sure the restrooms are clean and stocked. And then she unlocks the doors at 5 a.m. before taking her seat at the front desk to greet the people who come in for the different activities happening during the day.

“I always get up early anyway,” she says. “So this isn’t a big deal.”

She’s worked at the Y for the past five years. “I enjoy it,” Mary says. “It keeps my mind and body active. And I get to know more people this way.”

The people and activities at the Y vary some, depending on the day.

“It can be really busy around here,” Executive Director Mike Steffe says. “You see a lot of change of activity as the day goes on.”

Each weekday there is child care, and this Tuesday, Nov. 5, is no different. Parents drop off their young children to a playroom at the front of the facility before heading off to work. The kids play and socialize with each other until a bus takes them down the road to school.

In the exercise room in the back of the facility, eight women stand on mats to start their BODYFLOW class. The class is a combination of yoga, tai chi, pilates and meditation.

The ladies imitate the graceful stretches, deep lunges and other flowy movements of instructor Erica Harney. All the while, Erica encourages them, even if their movements are not perfect.

“Feel that in your back,” she says to her class as they all sit on the floor and lean forward, attempting to stretch their arms forward while laying their head on the floor. “Whatever modification you need to make, you make it.”

And several do modify some. But they achieve the goal of the class: working on their balance and stretching their muscles.

Mark Ruxer of St. Meinrad, center, taps pickleball paddles with Dave Hevron of Holland, left, Eric Wirthwein of Ferdinand, and Mary Lou Luebbehusen of Ferdinand after finishing a game in the gym at the Tri-County YMCA in Ferdinand. Mark said he was initially skeptical of pickleball, but eventually joined his wife, Kathy, in the group at the YMCA. “It’s kind of addictive,” Mark said.

The morning game of pickleball, a form of tennis with a lighter and louder ball, happening across the hall in the gymnasium, stretches the muscles of its players. The seven players, four at one net and three at the other, run around smacking the ball with their paddles, making the hard ball sound off a satisfying pop. As they hit and miss the ball, they talk some trash to each other. But the entire time, everyone laughs at the jokes and congratulates each other as good plays are made.

They come out every Tuesday and Thursday morning, with some impromptu games other mornings if the gym is available.

“It’s good, clean fun, and keeps you moving,” says player Mark Ruxer of St. Meinrad. “It keeps the old bones moving.”

He and his wife, Kathy, love coming to the Y. In addition to pickleball, they also come to walk. And, Kathy adds, she uses the workout room with their daughter and their grandkids play basketball at the Y.

Mark and Kathy are glad to have access to a Y to play their games and walk, especially during inclement weather. “This is the closest place to do that,” Kathy says. “It’s good to have these kinds of options right here.”

Mark agrees. “We have a park near us,” he says, “but you couldn’t do anything like this over there.”

Back in the exercise room, the 60-minute BODYFLOW class is close to ending. Everyone lies on their backs on their yoga mat in quiet meditation. “Just relax,” Harney tells her students. “Create a connection of your mind, your body and your breath.” Everyone breathes deeply in silence. When they’re all ready, they sit up cross-legged, bring their hands to the front in a praying motion and say, “Namaste.”

Karen Uebelhor of St. Meinrad picks up her mat and coat to head out. She has been attending classes at the Y for the past three months, about five days a week. She is in the BODYFLOW class twice a week, and the Morning Energizers class three days.

“I want to feel energized,” she says. “I don’t want to get into a deal where I would sit in front of a TV all day. I want to be active and I want to be healthy.”

She learned about the classes from a friend of hers and decided to try one.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I came here,” Karen says. “Everybody is so friendly. They don’t make you feel like a newbie, and you don’t know what you’re doing. Everybody is in it together.”

By mid-morning, the class has cleared out and the pickleball nets have been taken down. Both rooms, as well as the boxing room, are about to be used for Rock Steady Boxing. The wellness program is a non-contact, boxing-style fitness class for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Steve Davis of Huntingburg, center, keeps a balloon afloat as he warms up for Rock Steady Boxing in the gym.

Donny Kramer is one of the 20 people who does chair exercises and standing exercises with poles in the gym before moving to the boxing room. Donny punches a bag for a while before moving to a punching dummy to practice some uppercuts.

“I feel so much better when I leave,” says Donny, who lives northwest of Holland. He has been in the class for about two years and always looks forward to it.

“I like being with a group of people,” he says. “There’s camaraderie. And that helps you, too.”

In the exercise room, Lee Wright completes different movement exercises — stepping in and out of ladder rungs on the floor, leg stretches and standing on one leg. There are a series of exercises her group moves around to do. In a little while, her group and Donny’s group switch rooms, while a third group stays in the gym to dribble basketballs and shoot baskets. “Gotta go box,” Lee says excitedly.

She has been in the program for eight months, and, like Donny, she also says it has helped with her balance.

“I was very off balance and kept falling down before,” she says. “And now, I haven’t fallen down that much.”

She comes to the Y from Taswell, so she didn’t know anyone at first.

“I was quiet the first few week or two,” she says. “I have to get acquainted a little bit first, and then I’ll talk. But as you can see now, I’m not quiet at all.”

Lee’s spunky personality rubs off on others. “I stay upbeat,” she says. “You can’t be down or depressed and continue with your life. You can’t do that. That’s my philosophy of life.”

Her Parkinson’s is in its last stages. But the workout she gets in the class helps a lot, she says.

“If I didn’t do this, I couldn’t move or motivate myself,” she says. “I’d be in a wheelchair.”

By midday, the classes have stopped, though the workout room does see some lunchtime visitors. A religion class for Protestant students is also held in the early afternoon.

Tri-County YMCA Executive Director Mike Steffe watches as Ivy Pund, 5, left, Olivia Sitzman, 5, Wesley Lindauer, 4, and Greyson Valdez, 5, all of Ferdinand, and other Ferdinand Elementary students board the bus for the after-school program. Mike picks up the kids every day.

The action starts again after school, when Mike takes a bus to Ferdinand Elementary to bring students to the Y for an after-school program. The students are greeted by Y staffers and a 4-H staffer who visits the Y once a month to do an activity with the students. The staffers give the students a locked box that they have to unlock. The game is called Breakout. The kids have clues at four different tables, and have to work in small groups to figure out from the clues the combinations that will open the box. Once they get a box open, they find another box that needs a different combination from one of the tables.

By the time the students get to the last box, they have worked themselves into a frenzy. They are all bunched around the box reading the letter clues they have and trying to get them in the right order. As they work, different parents come in to pick up their child, though the child doesn’t want to leave. They do leave...reluctantly.

The students finally get the letters in the right order and pop open the box. Inside is a note: “I love Breakout.” The students feel a sense of accomplishment.

“That was fun,” Kyah Egg says afterward.

Kids start to run around the room, full of energy. They’ve already finished their homework, and they’ve gotten the lesson of the day, which focused on teamwork. Now, they have energy to burn.

“Wanna go to the gym?” adult leader Judy Verkamp asks.

“Yeah!” the remaining students squeal, running to line up at the door.

As they walk to the gym, five members of the Y’s board of directors meet in the room next door. They are the people committee, and they talk about keeping board members aware of the history of the Y, which opened as a permanent facility in 2011, as well as the regular updates Mike sends them about Y happenings, which they appreciate. They speak up to talk over the thumping bass that is coming from another room, where a cycling class is taking place at the same time. The teacher of the class also talks over the music: “OK! One! Two! Go, go, go, go, go, GO!” It’s a challenge to talk over, but they do.

That challenge will be solved once the Y expands to become a bigger facility. The committee talks about the expansion, which will add a new 5,000-square-foot wellness center and a new 5,000-square-foot program center.

Charlotte Roesner of Ferdinand and her son Beau, 8, wait for Beau’s father to pick him up following the after-school program.

“That is why we need the expansion,” Mike says. “We need the room. And the fundraising is going well. We have a great community and great partnerships.”

The rest of the evening includes child care, parents continuing to pick up their kids, and a Girl Scout meeting. By the end of the night, the halls become quiet again, making it simple for Jami Ferguson, the after-school coordinator, to close up the facility at 9 p.m. The workout room is still accessible to members who have key cards, and a few do come in during the night.

The Y never completely shuts down.

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