Y Member Stories

Our members are amazing and each has a story to tell. The Y meets people where they are in life and helps guide them on a journey to reach and exceed their goals. Meet some of members below. If you want to share your Y story, please contact us at info@rockriverymca.org.

Sunshine, relaxing by the pool and tan lines are typical things on a summer agenda for students from June through August, but not for me and the 18 interns who competed in the YMCA Intern Challenge. Our agendas were instead filled with marketing plans, creating videos, pitching sales, scavenger hunts, dedication, perseverance and most importantly, learning.

Each week, interns worked in teams with amazing community organizations including the Goldie B. Floberg Center, Zenith Landholdings and Illinois Bank and Trust. On Friday we presented our work in the board rooms, where we were expected to be professional as we highlighted our growth and our successes.

One of the greatest things I learned from working in our teams is that everyone has something they excel at and something they may struggle with, but coming together as a team helps fill in those gaps. I also learned that dedication is important no matter what setting you're in. The Intern Challenge required a lot of dedication, but it was dedication that made all the learning one of the best experiences I had the honor of taking part in.

Being able to get involved with a community I absolutely love has been so rewarding. I am thankful for the YMCA and the effort and time given to making the Intern Challenge possible for me and the other interns. The connections, friendships, learning and leaders in the community I have met along the way have allowed me to grow as a person and a leader, and I hope to continue making a difference with the Rockford region - a community I believe is thriving, and a community I love.

More Y Member Stories

Three years ago, Patricia had a cancerous tumor removed from the right side of her face. After she was diagnosed with cancer, she became down, depressed, and discouraged. Once recovered from her surgery, she decided to come back to the Y. She had been a member for years, but a casual one. She attended one of Connie's fitness classes on a Friday morning. Patricia shared her story with Connie and Connie called out to the class, "this woman just had surgery and just weeks after came here to work out with us!" Patricia said she would never forget how Connie celebrated her that day! Connie was so welcoming and encouraging. 
"I felt like people really cared about me; the Y is my medicine! It gave me my life back."

After her initial return, Patricia started working out 2-3 times a week and has moved up to working out 5-6 times a week. She was also determined to add swimming to her routine. Learning to swim as an adult can be a difficult and scary task. Patricia started by just walking around in the pool. A former swim coach at the Y took notice of her and encouraged her to swim laps. He helped her work on her form and technique. After 5 months of training, she regularly swims at the Y and completes 20 laps at a time. 

In addition to fitness and swimming, Patricia also started running. She started by training for 5K races where she consistently placed 1st and 2nd in her age group. She then began challenging herself more and trained for 10K races. In 2014, she placed 1st in her age group at the YMCA Heritage Run. She now runs every race the Y hosts and looks forward to the next. Her biggest achievement in running came on August 14, 2016, where she placed 1st in her very first half marathon at the Chicago Biggest Loser Half Marathon.

Patricia now feels happy, healthy, and a part of the community. She bring friends and encourages them to invest in themselves too. She asks them, "what are you doing for you?" Patricia went on, "I always encourage others to come to the Y. I want them to feel how I feel. I like the people here. I like my community. I like seeing Charles and the team. I invite others to join. Connie has helped inspire me. I would not trade my YMCA for anything."

Ray Putnam has been a YMCA member for the past 15 years and started road bike racing at about the same time. Ray stumbled across the Y’s Pedaling For Parkinsons stationary spin class and has used the class as a training tool to strengthen and condition for races. The real achievement in this isn’t that he takes a spin class, it is that he is using it to break national records at 90 years old!

“After I retired, my wife and I bought ourselves a couple bicycles and we were just riding for fun. We got acquainted with a biking group down in Florida. Then I had a friend of mine that was racing bicycles and he got me interested in it. He and I would go for rides and he would train me.”

“Previously, I would come down to the Y and workout in the weight room. One day, I was walking past and I saw this group here working out. The lady who runs it, Linda, came out and wanted to know if I wanted to ride with them. And I said, 'Yeah, I’ll try.’ She said it was a Parkinson’s disease class, and I said ‘Well, I don’t care about that. As long as they don’t mind me riding with them, I don’t mind riding with them.’"

Linda brought out a bike and Ray started riding it. Ray says he thinks that it really helped him because he would do interval work on it. 

“The whole idea of me working really hard training is that I’ve been trying to break a national record for several years. I broke one when I was 75 and I went out of it for one year, and somebody broke my record. I’ve been trying up until this past Labor Day to stay in shape so I could break the 90-94 age category record. And I did! The guy who had it before me, had it for 8 years. He doesn’t have it anymore,” Ray says with a chuckle. 

So, now Ray has a national record and some new friends! “They’re really nice people. My understanding is, coming down here is helping them a lot. The camaraderie is really good."

Tracy Campbell is on a healthy living and fitness journey and she wants to share her success with others who may be struggling. Tracy’s story starts in 2010 when she weighed 140 pounds. She says she felt great and was confident. She met her now husband and they got married in 2011. That is when things began to change. Tracy says she got up to 280 pounds. 

“I was so discouraged with myself,” says Tracy. “I had never been this size before and I knew I needed to do something about it, but making that kind of change is hard.”

She started her journey back to healthy living at another fitness center, but felt the Y might be a better fit. She joined the YMCA in 2015. She likes the diversity in activities that she can do, but more importantly, she appreciates the support.

“People cheer me on,” says Tracy. One of those people was her sister. Tracy says having a buddy to motivate you and hold you accountable is a great way to meet fitness goals.

Tracy comes to the Y three to fives times a week. She walks on the track for 45 minutes, rides the bikes and occasionally does aqua fitness classes. She also changed her diet, and drinks tea every morning and night. 

Drum roll, please… Tracy is down 50 pounds since she started her new lifestyle! She says she has more to lose to reach her goal of being a size 14, but she is more motivated now than ever before. Tracy wants to encourage others to follow in her footsteps.

“I want people to know that while you may experience set backs, if you push through to your goal and commit yourself, then you can achieve it.”

Resilient…this is the word that best describes Alexis Jeffreys. Alexis has faced adversity from a very young age. Rather than give up, her challenges have pushed Alexis to adapt and find new ways of achieving her goals. From the time she was very young Alexis has been taking care of and serving others, starting with her mom. Her mother was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer 10 years ago, when Alexis was a young child. As her mother underwent a radical double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation, Alexis cared for her. Her mom said Alexis was her rock. In spite of their trials as a family, Alexis did well in school.  She was bright and had a solid academic record going into her junior year of high school.

As is often the case, life took a twist. During her junior year Alexis was diagnosed with a heart condition that required surgery. During this health crisis Alexis fell further and further behind in school. With a tutor provided by the school district to work with her for only 6 hours a week, it became apparent Alexis would not be able to keep up with her peers in high school and graduate. Devastated, Alexis dropped out of high school. Rather than wallowing in despair, Alexis started looking for alternatives. Attaining a diploma had been her goal, but when that dream was taken from her, Alexis stepped outside the box and started pursuing her GED.  

Initially Alexis attempted to complete her GED on her own. However, the cost of the tests became a huge barrier for her and her family. Just as she started to despair of ever being able to complete her GED, she found the Elevate program thanks to the marquis in front of the Y advertising our program.   

In January 2016, Alexis and her mom Kim walked into the Y. Their love for each other was apparent as they told their story. Alexis’s mom was full of hope for her daughter, but she was consumed with worry about Alexis’s future. As we explained the program to them both, that Elevate is a free program, all testing fees would be paid for by the program, Alexis would go to Career training and she would earn stipends as she completed the different components of the Elevate program, Kim said, “You’re program is a miracle.”

When we also shared that our graduates participate in the graduation ceremony at Rock Valley College where they walk across the stage in full cap and gown, they looked at each other and cried. Kim said to her daughter, “I’ll get to see you graduate.” And with that, hope was restored to a beautiful young woman and her mother.  

Alexis entered our classroom at the YMCA two weeks later, and completed her GED within a month. She was unbelievably impressive; a young person faced with so much, yet willing to fight for what she wants in life. Alexis participated in the graduation ceremony at Rock Valley College. Her mother watched, along with her father and his new family, whom Alexis hadn’t seen for a long while. They came together to celebrate her achievement.  

Even now, Alexis faces a daunting future filled with medical procedures and challenges. Instead of living in fear of the future or giving up, Alexis is enrolling in Rock Valley College to fulfill her dream of becoming an oncology nurse, caring for people battling cancer.  

Alexis embodies the spirit of resiliency we see in many of our students. Her story uplifts all of us that have worked with her, and reaffirms everyday why we do what we do.  

YMCA member Mary Hamp was featured on WREX-TV on September 22, 2016 for National Fall Prevention Awareness Day. Falls are the number one cause of injuries for older Americans. At 91, Mary knows she's vulnerable to falling, but she isn't letting fear win. Mary has remained active.

Mary joined the Y 30 years ago and has attended group fitness classes three times a week since. She currently takes an Active Older Adults class at the I.D. Pennock Family YMCA. Mary's persistence and dedication to her health has paid off. She can hold a plank for more than a minute and half! Mary says this kind of physical activity helped her bounce back from a recent fall. 

"I was walking my dog and another dog jumped out at us," recalled Mary. "The leash got wrapped around my legs and I fell. The doctors were shocked I didn't break a bone at my age."

Mary has one piece of advice for other older adults.

"Get moving if you aren't moving," said Mary. "And, the best place to do it is here at the Y because it's fun to come to the Y. You meet friends here. You come as much for the fellowship as the exercise."

Learn more about the SilverSneakers program and see if you qualify for a free membership.

As every member knows, the YMCA’s mission is to help people grow in spirit, mind and body, while also seeking to broaden an individual’s involvement in their community. When Mike Lentini joined the YMCA at Rock River, little did he know how much this mission would become a part of his daily life. 

After getting married, gaining a few pounds, having a baby and gaining a few more pounds, Mike noticed a disconnect between the energy he needed and the energy he had. When he decided it was time to get moving, the YMCA at Rock River served as the best place to do so – it served as his home for starting a healthier lifestyle.

Through hard work and many long nights in the gym, Mike lost the weight he gained. He took up running – on the YMCA bike path – just because he could, and soon enough, his one-mile runs turned into two, two turned into ten and the next thing Mike knew, his friend was challenging him to running a half-marathon.

In the summer of 2015, just weeks after he started training, Mike decided to test the waters with Rockford’s Literacy Half Marathon. He finished and felt great, so he signed up for another race – The Biggest Loser Half Marathon where he finished in 1hour 26 minutes (6:37/mile pace) and first overall. That following September, Mike qualified for the Boston Marathon after running the Last Chance BQ.2 Fox Valley Marathon – his first appearance ever in a 26.2 mile race. This past April, as Mike crossed the finish line for the Boston Marathon at Copely Square, he reflected on the goal he set back in June 2015 and the 1,422 training miles that led him to finishing the race in the top eight percent.

Now, four marathons later – one of those being the most sought after race in the U.S. – many can’t help but wonder what is next? Mike will say, however, that he actually has a lot left to do. For Mike, running is now his way of giving back to his community and those in it. 

Earlier this month, Mike, who is the Director of Operations at Subway, completed the Bank of America Chicago Marathon for the second time as part of Subway’s official marathon running team in support of Special Olympics. Over the past two years, the local Subway owners advertising group paid the registration fee for all team runners and committed nearly $20,000 to benefit Special Olympics through marathon fundraising efforts.

For many years, Subway has supported Special Olympics programs and events across the Midwest region, such as the popular celebrity-driven Polar Plunge and the annual Spring Games. 

Since he started his first run a little over one year ago, Mike has come full circle. He has grown in mind, body and spirit, and being physically fit pours over into all aspects of his life. Running, first and foremost is one way Mike connects with God. In addition, running also gives Mike the energy to fulfill the responsibilities God has entrusted in him; to be a great husband through pursuing his wife, a father engaged with this two young children, and even to give back to those in his community. 

And Mike couldn’t have done any of this without the friendship and support of members and employees at the YMCA at Rock River. “I love the YMCA,” Mike said. “It is where my work (there’s a Subway inside), my faith and my personal life meet. It’s a place filled with people who love God and love to support each others goals, and I couldn’t be any luckier to be a part of something so positive and truly rewarding.

Making the choice to join LIVESTRONG at the YMCA was the best health decision I have made for myself recently. A mother of two and a college instructor, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 and underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy in 2013-2014. Chemotherapy sapped a lot of my energy, and I didn’t feel like I had made too many healthy choices during the past year as I was trying to bounce back. I’d had physical therapy in the past, but I was looking for a regular workout that I could do on my own to try to rebuild strength and endurance.

I also have secondary progressive multiple sclerosis and have used a powerchair since 2008. Because of this, I was a little nervous about what equipment I would be able to use, how I would figure out how to use it, and how overall accessible the gym environment would be. I decided to sign up for LIVESTRONG at the YMCA in the Fall of 2014.

Since I work full-time, I could only participate in the evening session. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough enrollment that fall for the evening session to take place, and I was informed that it was cancelled. Much to my surprise, the director of the program at that time went out of her way to arrange for me to be able to come in once a week and work one-on-one with an excellent fitness trainer and LIVESTRONG at the YMCA instructor even though I didn’t even have a Y membership. This allowed me to kick-start my fitness goals, and the one-on-one attention permitted me to become comfortable with using the various machines and free weights that are available at the Y in a relaxed environment.

In January of 2015, I was happy to learn that the evening session of LIVESTRONG at the YMCA was set to start. I was able to continue forward with my workout goals, this time starting with confidence from already knowing that I could use the equipment available and that the gym was accessible. Just as significant as continuing my fitness goals, being a part of LIVESTRONG at the YMCA introduced me to several other strong individuals who have also been impacted by cancer. Even after the program ended, I have continued to stay in touch and be supported by several of my new friends who shared the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA experience with me.

Participating in LIVESTRONG at the YMCA definitely helped me physically by improving my strength and endurance, as well as mentally by improving my confidence in my abilities and connecting me to others who have also been affected by cancer. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has been affected by cancer!

Taylor Franklin is currently enrolled as a freshman nursing major at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and was first introduced to the Raise/Achievers program during her junior year of high school in the Winter/Spring of 2015. 

One of her most impactful experiences with the group was the college tour where the group visited four schools: Southern Illinois University Carbondale, University of Illinois, Chicago State University, and Northern Illinois University. By visiting a range of schools that were different in their own individual way, it allowed Taylor to pick out attributes that were important to her. By visiting the schools, she was able to get a glance of what college life would be like, talk to students currently enrolled and ask them about the school and hear about their personal experiences. 

After the tour, Taylor stayed involved with the group where she would get together every Tuesday and Thursday to listen to various inspirational speakers, representatives from local colleges, participate in volunteer opportunities, and even prepare for the ACT. During these sessions, the RAISE/Achievers created the slogan, #DearSummer, which was a project to bring together local teens to teach them about being safe in the summer months and how to avoid negative environments. 

"Overall, this group has really helped to shape me and mold me. The kids there are great and are aspiring to be something in life. The adults are great mentors and will do anything they can do to help the kids. They really do want to see us grow and do amazing in life. I have had some great encounters from being in this group. Staying involved in RAISE was a wonderful experience for me, and anyone who is looking for a group of teens who want to get involved should definitely look into this program!" -Taylor Franklin