Workouts heat up Anchorage YMCA

I walked in cold. Although I've been a regular lap swimmer at the Anchorage Community YMCA for decades, ever since the day the pool opened back in the 1970s, I had not attended land classes.

So there I was, a true klutz, in the Y's SilverSneakers® class.

"I know why you love to swim," my husband has told me, kindly but pointedly, many times. "You can't trip when you are swimming." There's much truth in that.

I spotted a friendly face. I'd often been in the pool with Alis Schmitt. She would be over in the water aerobics class while I swam my laps. But true to the spirit of the Y, we'd done a lot of visiting. Alis is recovering from knee surgery. I'd learn that several of the seniors in the class were there to regain strength after surgeries.

"I decided to switch it up, try something different from exercise in the water and the gym," Alis told me. She pointed to a rack containing the day's exercise equipment.

"Grab one of those elastic tubes, a ball and hand-held weights," she said.

Wait a minute. I'd come to write about this class, especially designed for seniors, to just be an observer. The class description reads, "Have fun and move to the music through a variety of exercises designed to increase muscular strength, range of movement and activities of daily living." I hadn't come to participate, to put on display my usual klutziness.

Well, OK, I'd try. I noted that each person had a chair. Maybe I could just sit in it?According to that class description, "A chair is used for seated and/or standing support." That was reassuring.

Standing in front of us was Vickie Leavens, the Y's Health and Wellness Director. She combined a warm smile with an "all-business, let's-get-moving" attitude. Maybe she wouldn't notice me if I stayed toward the back of the studio exercise room?

The music began – "For Once in My Life," then "I Will Survive." Jazzy stuff. Appropriate titles, I thought to myself. We began marching in place, swinging our arms, stretching, leaning.

In my usual fashion, I rolled my ball across the studio floor as it escaped from me; I sat on my ball when we were supposed to be using it for a back massage; and I got twisted up in my elastic tubing.

But, no one cared. Everyone was intent on doing their best, on doing what they could.

At the end of the 45-minute class, Vickie asked us, "How's everyone doing now?" "Tired," a few sighed. "Good," most replied. My friend Alis turned to me. "That felt good," she said, smiling. "All that movement. Bring on the day!" I surprised myself. I had to agree. I was OK.

After that session, I had a chance to visit with Vickie about what the Anchorage YMCA offers to seniors in general. She had a simple answer. "Fitness, family and friends. That's why I like it here, why I've taught here for 10 years. We're welcoming. It's comfortable for people here, including our many seniors."

She explains that the SilverSneakers® class can accommodate anybody.

"It's a first-step class, good for people recovering from surgery or injuries, for people who have been sedentary for many years, people who have been nervous about trying movement or exercise of any kind."

From my one-time experience, I had to agree with her. I had been fine – no need for nerves or timidity.

"Lots of seniors will begin in the pool," Vickie tells me. "They start in one of the water aerobics classes, then move to a land class. They feel comfortable with the support of the water. There are classes here offering varying exercise levels. And there's water walking available."

"There's something for everyone." That may sound like simple talk. But it's proven true at the Y. It's motto proclaims – "The Y. So much more." There are yoga classes for varying abilities, a Bone Builders class, several Zumba® classes, cardio classes, swim sessions and aerobics classes, personal trainers available in an addition -- the beautiful, new gym.

Now that my courage is up, I may even try the Hot Hula® class. Its description reads as follows: "Inspired by the dances of the Pacific Islands, Hot Hula Fitness incorporates easy-to-perform dance movements set to the sounds of traditional Polynesian drum beats fused with funky Reggae music, resulting in a modern, hip fitness workout." It ends happily, "All ages and fitness levels will enjoy Hot Hula Fitness."

I'm there! My hips may be swinging in their own creative way, in unprescribed directions, but I know it will be fun. For years, the Y has been my happy place, a place of community, even more so now that I am a full-fledged senior.

The Anchorage Community YMCA is located at 5353 Lake Otis Parkway; 907-563-3211; Complete class descriptions and listings of class times are available in the Y's newly remodeled lobby. Anyone interested in trying out any class can get a $5 pass to experience it.

The Y's membership brochure states, "The Y is more than just a place to exercise; here you can be yourself. Our aim is to make you feel comfortable so you can achieve your best you. No matter your age, fitness or experience level, the Y is for you."

I'm proof of all that!

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