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.

16-year-old Ali Cushing is living out a big goal this week. She is swimming at the YMCA Short Course Nationals in Greensboro, NC. She is representing the Stingrays alongside 1,400 of the best swimmers from across the country. Ali has been swimming competitively since she was six years old. She has been on the YMCA Stingrays for the past seven years.
 
“Making a national cut has always been a goal for her. Seeing her hard work, dedication and sacrifice pay off puts a smile on our faces,” said Jenny and Kyle Cushing, Ali’s parents.
 
As Ali prepares to swim the 200 free, the 50 free time trial, and the100 free time trial at a national level, she admits she is a little nervous.
 
“I am preparing and expect to be strong and feel strong for my races. I’m just really looking forward to the experience of being in the pool with elite swimmers,” said Ali.
 
Ali’s parents say swimming has provided a healthy, competitive outlet for their daughter.
 
“It has taught her about goal setting, work ethic, self-discipline, emotional regulation and how to deal with success as well as adversity. It also has led to some great friends and great coaches being in her life.”
 
Ali says the Rays have become a family to her.
 
“I love the team and our coaches. It is competitive, but also really team oriented. It has taught me about goal setting, persistence and how to self-motivate both in and out of the pool.”
 
Ali still has two years left of high school and a clear path to help her determine what comes next.
 
“My main goal is just to keep getting better,” said Ali. “My focus continues to be my process. Another goal is practice with purpose. If I work hard and work smart, all the other goals take care of themselves.”
 
The Rays are always recruiting new swimmers. Ali has some advice for her younger teammates or those who are considering the sport.
 
“Keep learning how to work hard. Have fun getting better. Swimming is a great sport because it is you and the pool. Meeting goals is worth the work.”
 
Good luck, Ali! We’re all rooting for you! 

More Y Member Stories

Stephen Peterson has been on a journey that has transformed his physical and emotional wellbeing. “When I got out of my own way, I realized my own success,” said Stephen.

It started seven years ago. Stephen was working the night shift, not getting a lot of sleep and making unhealthy food choices. His weight got up to 335 pounds, which was unfamiliar territory for this former college swimmer. Stephen decided to join the Y and start exercising, but years later, he still wasn’t where he wanted to be. 

Meanwhile, life brought new difficulties. He had three young boys and was going through a divorce. He had to make some tough financial decisions. 

“I went from fiscally responsible to paycheck-to-paycheck overnight. I gave up cable, Internet and going out to eat. I was going to have to give up my Y membership, too.”

A decision Stephen wanted to avoid at all costs because he knew the transformation he longed for would be so much easier if he had access to the Y. “I put my pride aside and asked for help. The membership team gave me a blessing and helped with short-term financial assistance. I was so grateful.”

Three months later, Stephen got a job promotion and a raise. He could now focus on his health transformation. With the help of a friend who was dietician, Stephen overhauled his eating. He increased his visits to the Y and seven months later, he was down 100 pounds!

“The Y helped me maintain a balance in my life and find motivation. I was going for fitness and exercise – I didn’t realize I would meet friends. I could see different people going through the same thing as me.”

You’ll find Stephen swimming laps, lifting weights, or running on the treadmill three to four days a week. On the other days he works out in his home gym. The Y is more than a place to exercise for Stephen, he is also a Jr. NBA coach for his son’s team. This role has helped him build even more relationships.

“I’m fortunate to have good people in my life. The Y brings people who normally wouldn’t be together – together. I love being a part of this healthy network of people. In fact, I’m always sharing my story and encouraging others to join the movement.”

Imagine a lifetime of fearing the water and never learning to swim – only to get news that the pool may be your only option to exercise. 

“I took a lesson as a child and hated it. It was cold and unpleasant. I never went back,” remembers Rosie. 

Fast forward to age 59. Doctors told Rosie that if she wanted to remain active and continue to exercise, the water would be her only option. In her 20s, Rosie regularly did aerobics and weight lifting. Getting her heart rate up continued to be a top priority, but she found herself barely able to walk from sudden intense knee pain in the summer of 2016. She knew two things – not exercising was out of the question and it might be time to face her fears once and for all. 

“Going to the pool or lake was never my idea of fun,” said Rosie. “However, I have always had a desire to learn to swim. I tried to learn when my kids were little, but the instructor told us to jump in the deep end during the first lesson to tread water. I said ‘nope’ and never went back.” 

In January 2017, after the news from the doctor, she tried again. She enrolled in adult swim lessons and found Christine, a swim instructor at the Northeast Family Y.  

“She was patient, never laughed at me, and made me feel comfortable in the water,” said Rosie. “Christine got me to swim a lap doing freestyle. I felt higher than a kite when I swam that first lap. Our instructor was our cheerleader.” 

After she finished the session, she thought, “now what?” The instructor told them to continue to build stamina and work on doing more laps. The goal was up and down seven times. “I remember that it took me 25 minutes to get six laps. It was excruciatingly hard.”

Even though she was swimming, the fear was still sitting in the back of her mind. 

“I always swim next to the wall – just in case I need to hold on,” said Rosie.

Rosie persevered and took on her fear. She now swims four to five days a week and has logged nearly 150 miles since 2017! She is up to 22 laps in 50 minutes.

“I’m proud of what I have accomplished, but to this day, I still dislike the water,” said Rosie.

Rosie believes she was finally able to conquer her fear this time because her motivation changed. It became a necessity for her health. 

Rosie also transitioned from Y member to staff member. She overheard a woman saying the Y was looking for aqua fitness instructors. She inquired and started teaching deep-water exercise in September 2017.

“I wasn’t looking for this opportunity. I’m so blessed,” said Rosie. “I realized that I missed out on so much fun with my kids. I hope I can encourage someone else with my story, so they can maybe take this step, too. To GOD be the Glory.”

We were so impressed with Rosie’s story. She only learned to swim two years ago. Rosie said she is thankful for the Y, Christine and her fellow aqua fitness instructors.

“I’m never in a bad mood when I leave the Y. It is filled with nice people. Everyone is taking care of themselves and doing something positive – it feels good to be a part of that.”

Rosie, we’ll be here cheering for you when you hit that 150-mile mark. Way to go!

Debbie has been on quite a journey this past decade that she loves to share with anyone she can. Eight and a half years ago Debbie weighed 280 pounds. She is seen above in the black dress on the left.

“My life was out of control - physically, financially and mentally,” recalls Debbie.

She remembers meeting a person of faith who inspired her to make a change. 

“I wanted to make my life and my daughter’s life better and stop the chaos and insanity of my life. I knew I needed to make exercise a priority in my life and that was hard.”

Debbie says she had struggled with weight for a majority of her life. She had even paid for a YMCA membership for six years without using it. She changed that. She started coming two to three times a week. It took her between six to nine months to build the routine and create the habit.

“There were days I just did not want to go and had to force myself to go. I started on the treadmill for 35 minutes. After four months, I tried the Elyptical trainer and almost died. I wasn’t ready and needed to step up my routine.”

She lost 30 pounds in six months without much of a diet change. She soon increased her visits to the Y and started eating healthier. By 2012, she was down 75 pounds. Her daughter started to join her at the Y and incorporated vegetarian cooking at home.

“By the end of 2012 I had lost 105 pound. I went from a size 26 to a size 12. I felt great and was happy.”

Debbie did fluctuate up and down in the years to follow, but her health has remained a priority. In 2014, she hired Cathy Everson, a personal trainer at the Y. She also started group exercise classes. She loves Body Pump, Body Combat, Hard Core Abs & More, Fit Camp and Barre. 

In all, Debbie lost 145 pounds! She loves sharing her transformation story and hopes it inspires others to take action.

“I want to show those who think that they cannot lose weight that they can. I know the struggles and what it takes. I can be a supporter and cheerleader.” 

Debbie does her best to keep herself motivated. 

“I say I NEVER want to go back to my old life. I was very close to financial ruin and bankruptcy besides being morbidly obese. I have found a deep faith and connection to God and Jesus and four years ago joined Central Christian Church. I give God all the credit for helping me make drastic changes to improve my life.”

Way to go, Debbie! Your Y family is proud of you and your journey. Keep up the great work!

14-year-old Seth G. recently accomplished a sought after milestone in TaeKwonDo – he was promoted to a black belt! Seth started learning and practicing TaeKwonDo four years ago with instructor Mr. Victor Fong at the Northeast Family YMCA.

TaeKwonDo means the art of kicking and punching. There are 10 ranks between white and black belts. Besides learning self-defense, the students also improve physical condition, flexibility and self-confidence.  

Seth says that TaeKwonDo has taught him perseverance and to be more disciplined. The dedication definitely paid off with this new accomplishment, but for Seth it came with mixed feelings.

“It was quite exciting, but not as much as I thought it would be. After how far I've come, it is more like a new step in training.” 

Mr. Fong, who has a second-degree black belt, enjoys teaching and watching his students progress through the ranks.

“Seth is a very dedicated and hard working student who seldom misses a class.  He is polite, has good manners and always has a positive attitude. I am proud of his accomplishments and progression towards a black belt in four years.”

So, what’s next?

“I will continue to learn. Not only will I keep practicing and learning new techniques to advance further in rank, but I will start learning how to teach as well.”

Seth now assists Mr. Fong with a beginner class and recommends it to anyone who is interested.

“The TaeKwonDo class at the Y is safe, friendly and thorough. Everyone can learn without stress,” says Seth. “It is more than just a class; it becomes a lifestyle and an aspect of one's personality.”

Way to go, Seth!

In my mid-thirties my lifestyle was pretty sedentary and my body showed it. I really needed larger pants and the bathroom scale told me I was nearing a milestone I didn't want to achieve. I had three young kids to keep up with and I knew I needed to make a change in my life. 
 
I began riding my bike again with my friend Mark Carlson. I started to lose weight and gain some muscle and improved body image. If he couldn't go, I often wouldn't either. I learned a big part of the exercise was enjoying time doing something I liked but I needed the support of a friend. When fall came the bikes would go into storage and my sedentary lifestyle returned. In the spring, we would get our bikes out again, try to regain our training and lose a few pounds of "winter" weight. After about five years this got harder. That's when I decided to take a look at the Y.
 
In the fall of 2010 I picked up a catalog of the Y's offerings. I saw a class called fxStrength for men. It was geared toward men of 35 years old with the idea that we need functional resistance training to fight the natural effects of aging. My friend John Johnson said he would join me in the class. 
 
I'll have to admit I was a little intimidated because I really didn't know what I was in for. We walked in that first morning and I saw the instructor, Jim Appino, sitting on a physio ball waiting for students to arrive. He looked like an Army drill instructor to me. I quickly learned he was a super nice guy who had our best interest at heart. We have become friends and John and I have been going ever since.
 
Jim taught us how to use the equipment at the Y as well as how to train. Almost immediately I was coming to the Y four or more mornings per week to practice what I was learning. I was making friends in fxStrength as well as in the Wellness Center. I started attending other classes and getting to know people there as well. Going to the Y was the best part of my day. I would get up year-round before the sun, no matter the weather, to see the people and to workout.
 
Jim suffered an injury while coaching basketball. I was able to jump in and lead the class for 20 weeks. This experience prompted a pathway to earn my personal trainer certification. In the last couple of years I have started running. Again, this was because of the influence of a Y instructor, Shannon Spiess. After attending one race as a spectator and then participating in one where I placed third in my division I was hooked. There was a team of Y members formed a couple of months later with the goal of running a half marathon. Now I run almost daily and usually one race per month. One of my best friends, Dan Alita, is someone that I really got to know through running. 
 
While training for that half marathon I got to know Melissa Burns the Executive Director of the Northeast Branch as we were both on the team. She asked me to join the Northeast Advisory Board. I was happy to jump in to serve the branch, my home away from home. As I learned more about the workings of the Y, I found that in addition to membership fees there are fund raising campaigns that help to make budgets. I also learned that many of the services provided by the Y are either subsidized, or free, depending on need. It was at this point that I was asked to become a donor and I am happy to give as I am able. I encourage others to join me in support of the Y.

Every conversation with Natalie reveals a new story and some fascinating tidbit about her life. A native of Canada, she moved to Rockford 13 years ago. She said she chose Rockford for the green space, a good YMCA and affordable housing.

She is definitely a Y frequent flyer as she spends 4-5 hours a day at the SwedishAmerican Riverfront Y. Between her own fitness routine and getting her kids from program to program – she invests some serious time at the Y, and we’re happy she does.

Natalie and her husband have 3 biological children and 6 foster children who are siblings. The children range in age from 3-26. Five of the kids are in swim lessons and three are on the Stingrays swim team. Away from the pool, you’ll find Natalie in the weight room, a group fitness class or running – anywhere she can. She is an avid runner and Vice President of the Wildcats Cross Country Team. She is also a former board member of the Rockford Road Runners, an active member of the Coyote Trail Running group, and race director of the Rockford Road Runners Fall Trail Classic race, held at Anna Page park on September 22.  *Side note – she will try to convince you to run with her if you find yourself in conversation with her.

“Running connects you to everything around you. It makes you feel better. It is something everyone can do, although many people believe they can’t,” said Natalie. “I like trail running and being in the forest. It is fun to do with the kids as we discover, jump in puddles and explore.”

Natalie likes running Ultra Marathons, which means they are more than 26 miles. Yikes! Last year she ran a 50-mile race in Peoria in 18 hours, which put her in the middle of the pack. She said it was a hilly race, which aggravated a previously torn meniscus. Prior to that injury, she has been on a 1,155-day running streak with a minimum of one mile run each day. The injury broke the streak and slowed her training, but now she is back with her eye on the Superior 100-mile race in Minnesota. She has qualified and is entering a lottery with a group of friends to run it.

Healthy living is a way of life in their household. There is no junk food to be found and everyone must be active every day. This is much of the reason why the Y is a home away from home for Natalie and her family. However, as Natalie shares there are so many reasons why she loves the Y.

“I like the people at the Y and the community feel. The Y enables people of all abilities and income levels to participate. My one son is special needs and they are giving him adaptive lessons. The adults here know my children, talk to them and play with them. In fact, they did little contests over the summer in the building with my kids. They rewarded them for reciting core values and understanding them. It’s nice that they do that.”

Natalie and her husband are striving to instill the values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility in their children.

“They have to be people who change the world. I want them to know they are responsible for what happens. They need to step in and fix things. This is my most important job in raising them. We have made decisions to sacrifice so they can have experiences that we didn’t.”

Natalie’s life goal is to be happy and to see her children happy. Well, that and the 100-mile race. Please help us encourage Natalie and wish her well on meeting her goals!

We love seeing hard work, determination and passion on display in our youth members. If you spend time at the SwedishAmerican Riverfront YMCA, then you’ve likely seen Avery. This 14-year-old has laid out a path to success. She wants to play collegiate basketball on athletic and academic scholarships as she pursues a career as a pediatric nurse. 

To accomplish her first goal, Avery is at the Y training most days on the basketball court.

“My workouts include getting warmed up with stretches, warm up shots, ball handling with my non-dominant hand, working on various offensive moves, and finishing with stretching or a couple of laps on the track. Some days I will also work on strength and conditioning, speed and agility.”

Avery started playing basketball in 5th grade and fell in love with the sport right away. She admits that she devotes all of her time to basketball. Avery will be a freshman this fall at Boylan Catholic High School where she hopes to play basketball all four years. 
 
We admire the path Avery has laid out for herself, but more than that, her ability to challenge herself to make it happen.

“What motivates me to push myself in life and in sports would be the goals I have for myself and people who have contributed to my success as a young athlete.”

Once such person is Gene Houston, Avery’s trainer. She credits him with helping her learn the game and hone her skills.
 
Avery says she loves the Y. 

“I like that I’m able to train, workout, play in games, and enjoy Subway when I visit.”

At the Y, social responsibility is one of our three areas of focus. We encourage our members and our community to give back so we may all become stronger together. Avery already understands the importance of helping in her community. 
 
At her former school, Maria Montessori, she was Student Council President and held a clothing drive for “RPS 205 Families in Transition.” 

“I started this clothing drive because when my mom and I volunteered, they didn’t have a lot of clothing available for the families, especially the teens, so I became determined to help out these families. My travel basketball team became involved and my entire school did, too. It made me happy to know that I could make someone see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.”  

We wish Avery the best in her high school career and beyond!

Weight loss doesn't happen overnight. There are no shortcuts or easy paths. It takes determination, inner strength, and a desire to change. Our inspiring story this month is of a YMCA member who has lost 192 pounds and is ready for more!

Linda S. Rascoe has been a member of the Y for the past 14 years. Since the beginning, she has focused on exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet to lose nearly half of her body weight. 

Linda has spent a lot of time coming up with a weight training set that works for her. It is constantly evolving to meet the needs of her increased strength and desire to stay on track. In the last couple of weeks, she has started adding rowing, the SciFit, and spin bike to her routine. She admits that it has been really fun to experiment with the new equipment and try things that she has never done before! Like most people, it can be tough to find the motivation to come to the Y, but she reminds herself how much of a difference it makes and knows it will continue to help her maintain her independence.

On top of exercise, changing her diet has been key to her weight-loss. Her greatest tool is counting calories. Linda writes down what she eats every day, which helps her feel in control of her journey. She has also been able to tell what food will be the most satisfying vs. the food that will leave you hungry.

Losing nearly 200 pounds is not an easy journey. Linda's faith in God keeps her going, along with the ability to keep her independence! "If I don't lose any more weight, I'm perfectly happy because I feel good!"

Great work, Linda! Keep it up!

Earlier this year the Y started a new group on Facebook called YMCA Monthly Fitness Challenges. The group was formed to inspire members to take their fitness to the next level, try new things, support one another, hold each other accountable and build relationships. One of our top users from the start has been Christine.  

Christiane has been a Y member for about 17 years. When her boys were young, the Y was their home away from home.

“I used the Y for fitness while my boys played basketball, flag football and went to Camp. We found a sense of community. I was a single mom and I didn’t want to be home alone. The Y became like a family.”

Christine’s kids are grown now and the way she uses the Y has evolved. She still loves the camaraderie in group fitness classes, but her focus is on becoming the strongest version of herself.

“I had a warped perception of what fitness should be as a former dancer. I now know that being strong and healthy is more important than being thin.”

Christine uses all three Y facilities. You’ll find her in a variety of group fitness classes and in the weight room. 

“The Y has awesome instructors. The amount of effort that goes into these classes is amazing.”

Christine has even shared her love of the Y with her sister and got her involved. 

“There is truly something for everybody and all fitness levels. That’s what I love about group fitness. We can all be in the class together – from beginner to advanced and all be challenged.” 

In fact, being challenged is what drives Christine. 

“I look forward to the next challenge on the group Facebook page. It keeps people inspired. It makes me want to try harder for myself, but also for those around me.

Determined, ambitious and a sweet heart – words to describe six-year-old Jack. Jack played Jr. NBA basketball this past season for the first time. His mom shared how he begged to play basketball, so they decided to give it a try. She admits it was somewhat of a discouraging start for Jack.

“When Jack first started, he stared at the ball while dribbling, couldn’t keep it with him by anything he tried and forget about getting the ball in the basket,” said Carista, Jack’s mom. “He got discouraged at first because he saw his teammates taking the ball to the hoop and making layups!”

But, she says, with his coach’s encouragement, practicing with tennis balls to learn better control and a mini hoop to help with his aim, Jack persevered. 

"Jack is a very ambitious and motivated kid,” said Coach Davis. “When he first came to basketball practice he couldn’t dribble a basketball. By the end of week 3, Jack was able to dribble around cones and effectively shoot the ball and make shots in practice. He always showed good team support and willingness to learn.” 

At the YMCA, youth sports is much more than winning and losing. It’s about character development. We strive to teach the core values of: Caring, Honesty, Respect, Responsibility and Faith. This past season we gave a character award to one player on each team. Jack was selected for the 5/6 Celtics.

“Even being discouraged at first, and probably one of the least experienced players to start with, he always was excited for practices and games,” said Carista. “Despite being almost in tears one game, he fought for the ball like a pro and kept trying! Starting from the little shy guy who didn’t even want to ask if he could borrow a ball, to becoming a much-improved player with friends on his team, I couldn’t be more proud of him!”

And, we are too. Way to go, Jack, and all of the Jr. NBA players! 

#RockYourBodyRockford

YMCA Member and 97Zok radio host Mandy James is on a mission to spread a message of love, positivity and inspiration. Mandy was recently featured on WREX-TV for their Inspiring 815 segment for the #RockYourBodyRockford movement. 

Last October, Mandy shared her struggle with Body Dismorphic Disorder – an illness involving obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. Instead of seeking medical treatment, she and six other women started a movement.

“There are so many people in our community who are struggling with issues that you don’t even know about, and so this is about sending out a message to not only love yourself, but to love others,” said James.

#RockYourBodyRockford started as a 30-day challenge to post a photo everyday and say something positive about yourself.

“You just need one powerful, inspiring moment to make that change.”

Mandy has been a Y member for two years and she admits she was nervous to join.

“Coming from a boot camp style program where you’re in a group setting, I was worried I wouldn't be able to achieve my fitness goals alone.”

She soon learned that she was not alone at the Y. 

“I found a wide variety of group fitness programs, state-of-the-art equipment, and the entire staff is so friendly and accommodating. Additionally, I take comfort in knowing that if I'm traveling, that I can use my Y membership anywhere, so I never have an excuse to miss a workout.” 

Mandy’s preferred workout is in the weight room.

“That's where I spend most of my time; picking up heavy stuff and putting it down is one of my favorite things to do. That, and walk around the room giving fist bumps and high fives; because who doesn't love it when other people recognize their hard work?”

Mandy says she continues to go to the Y and work hard every single day because, “you just never know who you're inspiring, or who's going to be inspiring you.” 

“Joining the Y is one of the best things I have done for myself,” says Cynthia Reynolds enthusiastically. 

The last time she belonged to a gym was in the 1980s. She says she did some at-home workouts for a while and stayed generally fit. She never really felt loyal to one gym or workout.

Things changed when the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the Y teamed up a couple of years ago. The College opened the Glenn Netto Center on campus, which is run by the Y. All staff and students can use the facility for free. Twice a week Y instructors would teach group fitness classes on-site.

“I decided to give one class a try, then another and another. Soon the instructor, Ginger, was encouraging me to do more,” said Cynthia. “I was invited to attend a Less Mills kick-off event at the Northeast Family YMCA, so I went and loved it.”

Cynthia went from trying one group fitness class on campus to becoming a full YMCA member and now participating in at least 5 classes a week!

“I’m hooked! I feel better, I look better, and it’s better for my stress.” 

Cynthia likes that group fitness classes provide accountability. She also likes the sense of community – not only in the classes, but at the Y overall. 

“I’m always greeted by name when I walk in the door. Customer service is important to me.” 

Cynthia also points out that she loves that she can use the Y anywhere she goes across the country with Nationwide Membership. “When I’m traveling, it’s easy. I just find a Y and never miss a workout.”

February is National Cancer Prevention Month and we wanted to highlight a LIVESTRONG at the YMCA cancer survivor.

Marsha Manthei was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram in 2014. While she admits to experiencing the shock of diagnosis, she remembers feeling it was her turn. She is the third generation of women in her family - following her mother and grandmother¬ – to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I watched my mother and grandmother go through the fight not once, but twice. These brave prayer warriors were such an example for me.”

Marsha sought care at Mayo Clinic as her mother and grandmother had. She chose to have a Bilateral Mastectomy and then was treated with the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen. She then went on to have two reconstructive surgeries. 

Prior to the surgeries, Marsha learned she would lose her job for needing six weeks off because she didn’t qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). She credits her family and friends for helping her to get through this time in her life.

Marsha says losing her job with a cancer diagnosis was devastating. “I’m a Registered Nurse and a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator. I had worked as a Director of Nursing for 15 years and never thought this would happen to me.”

Once she was able, Marsha joined LIVESTRONG at the YMCA. LIVESTRONG at the YMCA is a free program tailored to meet the specific needs of adult cancer survivors who would like to improve and reclaim their health before, during, and after treatment. 

“I looked forward to and enjoyed bi-weekly fellowship with fellow cancer survivors, their family members and our leaders.” 

Over the course of 12 weeks, Marsha met with others in small groups to exercise, enhance functional ability, and improve energy levels. The classes are led by certified instructors who have completed specialized YMCA of the USA training in elements of cancer, rehabilitative exercise, and supportive cancer care. 


“This program helped to nourish my body, mind and spirit. It taught me to live every minute of my life with every ounce of my being, and to not let cancer control me. Unity is strength, knowledge is power, and attitude is everything!”

In 2015, following her recovery, Marsha was offered a new position with a company that better suited her needs. She says her relationships are stronger and her bond with the Lord is unbreakable.

“I will forever hear my mom telling me, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul. Have faith. God loves you. It’s going to be ok.’”

Marsha is still active at the Y doing cardio workouts a few times a week. She remains close to her fellow LIVESTRONG at the YMCA graduates. They meet for dinner frequently to share what is going on in each of their lives.

Why the Y?

...it’s the people.

I joined the YMCA, in 1982 (shortly after the earth cooled). It was at this time, that the “Exercise Craze” was hitting a zenith. The downtown Y was expanding and machine equipment was replacing bar/free weights. My afternoons were spent with a group of people I didn’t know but we all had the same goal, “Be in better shape”. Because of this, I have made and maintained wonderful friendships with a group of people who share the same sense of good health. Now, here at the Northeast Branch, I have had the good treasure of establishing a whole new wealth of friends that share the same mindset.

...it’s the people.

More precisely, the staff.

In those years, there really weren’t trainers, in the traditional sense but a group of dedicated women and men and who cared enough to learn the latest techniques and share them with us. They were knowledgeable and were eager to share what they had learned. Many of us viewed them as “conscientious mentors”.

Yes, we sweated and we were sore but because of these early coaches, we made their classes, part of our daily diet.

...it’s the people.

Northeast Branch 2017.

5 AM comes early. Some days it’s cold, raining, snowing, and humid, or just plain miserable. However, there’s always a smile and a “Good morning“, from the front desk. Your feet lead you into either the weight room or to a class. It is here (classes), where the real difference has taken place. Today, there are certified trainers, who are up on the latest physical movements that are beneficial to the whole human anatomy. From strength training to cardiovascular implementation, “Today’s" trainers (and more succinctly), the Y’s trainers, are very conversant.

They not only instruct you on proper techniques, but attend to your psyche’ when you want to give up and offer you proper nutrition suggestions, to keep you fueled before and after. In my opinion, this speaks volumes.

In closing, I want to thank the YMCA of the Rock River Valley, for allowing me to be a member for 35 years and employing people with a true sense of physical and mental expertise.

Terry A. Giardini Psy.D

Meet the Dawson family – Desiree, Nick, Cameron and Colin. They are a proud Camp and Kids’ Time family! The Dawsons have been members of the Y for about six years. They joined the Y because it had the programs they were looking for as a family at a reasonable cost. 

Colin and Cameron are enrolled in Kids’ Time before and after school care as well as being regulars at Camp Winnebago every summer. The Y has become more than a place that cares for their children – for the Dawsons, it is a place where their family thrives.

“We have truly become a Camp family where we have watched our boys grow and mature and really use the Y values both at camp and at home,” said Desiree. “Camp fosters such a great learning and nurturing environment where kids can explore. It is something we are fortunate to be a part of every summer.” 

They were even more excited when Camp Days launched – allowing the boys to attend Camp on days when school is not in session.

“Camp Winnebago and the Kids’ Time program give us that peace of mind and we know our children are in excellent hands with them.” 

Desiree says family nights at Camp are one of their favorite days of the week during the summer. “What an amazing thing to be able to be a camper right along with them every Thursday night. We get to meet and get to know all of the counselors there, sing camp songs, and watch skits that they worked hard to put together throughout the week.” 

The Dawsons love their time exploring Camp together and seeing all of the children so excited to show their parents the activities that they get to participate in. Camp overnights are a big hit with Colin and Cameron.

“They try not to miss a single overnight the entire summer if they can help it. We all have so much fun and it does really feel like one big camp family.”

The Dawson’s say because of the amazing experiences they have had with Camp Winnebago, they decided to send the boys to YMCA Camp Benson the last two summers for a week of away camp. YMCA Camp Benson is located in Mount Carroll, IL and is a great option for families looking for a stay away option. 

Between School’s Out Days, Youth Education Programs, Camp Rekindle in the winter and Camp Revive in the spring – Camp Winnebago offers year-round fun and learning for area children.

“I can't say enough about the staff and how amazing everyone is there. I wish every child could experience how truly great Camp is.”

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