“Exercising more” is recognized as one of the top New Year’s resolutions for those who set them.
In parts of southwestern N.S., however, a major destination for working on this pledge ceased operation last June.
The Yarmouth YMCA – with its pool, exercise facilities, meeting rooms, community programs and many other services – closed as a result of years of financial challenges coupled with the impact to operations due to COVID-19.
The loss remains strong for longtime users of the Y – especially in the winter when snow and ice make exercising inside much more pleasant and convenient.
Bobby-Lou Reardon spent hours in the pool each week – swimming 2,000 to 3,000 metres every weekday morning. She was often at the pool on Saturdays or Sundays too when time was available.
Asked if she’s ever done the math as to how far she’s swum over the years, she laughs and says, “No, I can’t count that high. I’ve never kept track, but it would probably be quite far.”
Although she’s grateful to still have the opportunity to swim at a smaller pool in the region, it’s not the same. She says there are a lot of people missing the YMCA and the pool on a daily basis, and most people don’t realize the many other aspects of the Y that are now gone.
“For kids, that was a safe spot. That was enormous. If you went in there on a Wednesday or Friday night or a Sunday evening, it was packed with kids. It was a place to hang out for a swim or the games room.”
Besides coaching and swimming, the pool had programs for infants, children with special needs and those with physical disabilities.
Janice Fox didn’t use the pool but loved going to the gym and using the rowing machine, treadmill and bikes. She also appreciated the weight room. She also liked the Y for the social aspect.
“I think it was good for me mentally to be there with other like-minded people," she says. “At this time in my life it was great to go there and know that I was keeping myself in reasonable shape."
Although she has not replaced the workouts she used to do at the Y, she does yoga, Chi Gong, stretches and walks twice a day.
John Kearney was a frequent user of the YMCA. When he moved back to the tri-counties in 2014, his search area for a residence had to be within driving distance of the Y. He had suffered a coronary blockage a few years earlier and aerobic exercise was crucial to avoid further problems and stay healthy.
He participated in the cardiac rehabilitation program offered by the Y under the supervision of Dr. Brian Moses. The program extended over several months and included a cardiac nurse and physiotherapist's participation and consultations with a dietician. There was no cost, even to non-YMCA members.
After the program, he worked out at the YMCA three to five times a week. He also took part in the free yoga classes the Y offered five days a week. From the many weight training machines available, the Y staff selected the machines that would benefit a person of his age and showed him how to use them. A staff person was always on duty at the gym for advice.
“It was reassuring to workout, knowing someone was always on duty," he says.
When the Y closed, Kearney felt his health was in jeopardy. He started walking every day for an hour, but says it was evident exercise didn’t provide the same benefit as a full workout at the Y. He recently purchased two exercise machines to supplement his walking but says they do not replace the quality and diversity of exercise equipment that was available at the Y.
“Nor can one underestimate the value of peer support for maintaining a regular exercise program,” he says.
Bill Cox remembers going to the Y for Biddy basketball, floor hockey, gymnastics and eventually swimming when the pool was built.
“It wasn't just me though, it was everyone. I think the youth membership when I was seven was $8 a year."
Back then there wasn’t social media or cellphones and computer games. The Y was 'the' place to hang out, he says. It was a place where kids learned to win and lose, and, in a small way, even learned how to love.
“You see, as a teenager the Y was where the girls were," he says. "Many of us had our first crush there.”
Cox and his wife Lesa moved back to Yarmouth in 1985 to raise their family. Their three girls got involved in the Y and eventually the swim team. It became their life for more than 15 years.
“The lessons learned in the pool and at the Y have carried them far in life,” says Cox.
He believes the YMCA building being open as a “bridge” to a new facility can mean the difference between attracting new medical professionals and/or keeping the ones we have. He says he and his wife have seriously talked about leaving Yarmouth as they are disillusioned and frustrated and points to the Municipality of Yarmouth not supporting the re-opening of the YMCA enough before it closed.
Cox says one of his friends, who is a medical professional at the hospital, has applied for jobs elsewhere because Yarmouth no longer has a pool. Another friend sees her mother’s health deteriorating because the aquasize program is no longer available.
“Our own daughter, who is a radiation therapist, said she would not move back here if she were guaranteed a job because there is no pool for children to learn to swim,” he says.
Jennifer Hood started going to the YMCA when she was only one. Later in life she worked there as a lifeguard, swim instructor and aquatics director, plus helped coach the Whitecaps swim team.
"I guess I worked a total of 22 years, if you include my teens," she says. "The Y was a huge part of my life. The kids used to think I lived in the basement."
Her daughter spent every day there from the age of two to 18. “If it wasn’t for the Y and its programs at the time, I would not have been able to work and raise a child,” she says.
Hood feels strongly about the value of a pool and says the loss of swimming lessons in a town surrounded by water is huge.
“It will have an impact in years to come if it is not dealt with. We cannot allow a whole generation of children to be non-swimmers.”
Whitecaps head coach Alix d’Entremont says swim team membership has decreased now that they have to travel to Université Sainte-Anne’s pool in Church Point twice a week to swim. Normally they trained five to six times weekly.
“It’s a very scary reality," d'Entremont says. "We’re hopeful that we can get back to a Yarmouth-based facility next season. I think the kids are really holding on to that.”
A trust fund has been established by the Town of Yarmouth for the specific purpose of supporting the reopening of the facility at 275 Main Street, formerly operated by the Yarmouth YMCA. Funds may be used for repairs to the building or other expenses deemed necessary for reopening. In the event the facility cannot reopen, the Town will return the funds to those individuals, companies or groups that provide sufficient information to the Town for the return of the funds. Should sufficient information not be provided to return the funds, the Town may use the funds for a similar purpose.