Feature Article - November 2004
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Forward-Thinking Fitness

Some innovative health clubs share their secrets to success

By Kyle Ryan

Fitness is only part of it

Associate Executive Director Jeannie Thé makes it clear that her YMCA's function goes beyond helping people get in shape. The three branches of the YMCA of Central Kentucky have extensive children's programs and classes taught at local jails, not to mention the more than $300,000 given so needy families can participate in Y programs.

Such a setup is quite a change for Thé, who ran a large health club in the area and had her own cable fitness show for many years before joining the Y.

"If someone came to our club and said, 'Gee, this is the most awesome place…but I can't afford it,' we'd have to say, 'Sorry,'" Thé says. That's not the case at her YMCA, where people can apply for financial assistance scholarships.

Despite its wide focus, the 4-year-old Beaumont Family YMCA has enough features to compete against anyone: three pools (outdoor, indoor six-lane 25-yard and warm-water therapy); indoor track; free weights; weight machines; group-exercise studio; 100 free classes every week; martial-arts studio; large Spirit, Mind, Body Studio (for yoga, Pilates, etc.); steam room, sauna and whirlpool; and youth center.

The Y recently added 10,000 square feet to the facility, including expanding the Spirit, Mind, Body Studio along with a martial arts and gymnastics room, an expanded wellness room and children's area, and more restrooms. The Y's board viewed expansion as part of the YMCA's overall mission.

"This is a Spirit, Mind, Body program that's helping the whole person," Thé says, "and the mission of the YMCA is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that really help the spirit, mind and body for all, so that's why we were able to get this initiative."

It also helped that the $25,000 spent on equipment could be recouped in six months.

The YMCA's budget can be limiting, but it can also act as a sort of safeguard against ephemeral, potentially destructive trends. Thé's two decades of experience in the fitness industry help as well. Ever conservative, Thé held off on buying any step-aerobics equipment in 1989 because of her skepticism.

But her YMCA has cutting-edge programs to stay current. One of the most popular is free body-age assessment people receive when they join. The TriFit computerized fitness assessment figures out the "real" age of your body and gives specific directions for areas that need work. The club's large warm-water pool has proven popular as well.

"The warm-water pool is what so many people need," Thé says. "We have people over 90, and it's great to see that the YMCA can be for all."

That's part of the YMCA's mission, an especially important one considering Kentucky continually ranks near the top nationwide for obesity and other health concerns, according to Thé.

"We just try to serve our members and our population with what their needs are," Thé says. "We know 82 percent of the population is not exercising, so we need to entice them to get physically fit."

Having a strong staff helps entice people and keep them around. It also helps compensate for the Y's limitations—like equipment that can't be fixed right away if money is tight.

"A lot of it is about service and dealing with people," Thé says. "People like to go where they feel like somebody cares about them, so we try to have the Cheers atmosphere. Everybody likes to go where they know their name. So you can make up for sometimes not having the best equipment if you have the right people, so that's what we feel—get the right people on the bus, and you'll get to where you need to go."