February 13, 2015 /

William Yates

How do you effectively provide functional classes for seniors? Well, we want them to do things that will help make their life easier when they go home. We do squats in our classes; calf raises: th...

How do you effectively provide functional classes for seniors? Well, we want them to do things that will help make their life easier when they go home. We do squats in our classes; calf raises: things they can do at home and on a regular basis. We have over 4,000 people in the program here in DC, and it’s completely free of charge.

We have about 20 instructors that manage all of these seniors (55 years and older). We do an hour and a half workout and we’re not in there doing the basics.

What has been your greatest joy? A new student was not able to get off the floor; she was nervous about coming to my class, but I told her that all would be well if she sticks to the program. She stuck with it, and now she’s able to get off the floor.

With seniors who are fearful of getting started, how do you break the barrier and get them to take the first step?  I’m prior military (Army), so I treat everything like basic training and speak like I’m the drill sergeant. That’s how I run my class. I start at the bottom with the most basic tasks and then we work our way up to doing bigger and more challenging exercises we continue to show progress and, by taking this approach, we leave no one behind. Regardless of who comes into our class, we are going to add a workout or routine that will help the lowest person on the totem pole. . We don’t have to advertise or promote the class at all; seniors in the class spread the word via word of mouth and it’s because they are treated like family. When we are in class, we WORK. There’s no bingo going on in here and the young kids can’t even keep up with us in this class. It’s a serious class, we have seniors doing five-minute planks!

You must enjoy fitness? I actually don’t like working out, Excuse me, how is that possible to be the instructor and not enjoy working out? Well, I want to be older, and when I get to that age I want to be able to have a very good quality of life. The only way I know how to do that is by taking care of my health and staying fit.

How did you get into the fit program for seniors? When I was in the Army on my last enlistment, I came home for a quick weekend and my father was not doing well, my mother just recently passed the year before that. My dad started to show signs of Alzheimer’s, and as soon as I saw that, I took my leave and decided to come home and take care of my father. They thought he was only going to be around for three weeks or so. But when I got home, I was working with my dad. We started with motivation pieces and he lived another eight years. We got him in such great shape that he was able to run, and, one time, he went running but forget how to get home. Because of that, I had to take off from work. He passed away in 2008. My sister works here as well; she works with the youth the department for the YMCA. She called me and told me that the YMCA is starting a fitness program for seniors and she thought it would be the right fit for me.

I always tell people that I lost my father to Alzheimer’s, but I gained him as my best friend.

What do you love most about your father? My father was the same as he’d always been, even with the Alzheimer’s. He didn’t get upset at things, he was a calm, collected guy even when he didn’t remember anything; a mild mannered gentleman. The Alzheimer’s took his memory, but it didn’t remove all aspects of who he was. So now I appreciate when I have seniors who come to my class with Alzheimer’s. To me, they are the best students; they don’t even remember what they can or can’t do. They are very willing just to keep it moving. I love it!!

How long will you continue to do this job? To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t feel like I’m working, and I feel guilty on payday. I have no problem doing this forever. To me, it feels like taking care of my father; like I’m in a room with all of my uncles and aunties. Because of the impact that it has, I can see myself being here forever, or (if not here) I would be doing the same line of work somewhere else.

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