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A familiar face can be seen walking around the halls of the MacColl YMCA as Mary gleefully makes her way to the wellness center. She has become a regular at the Lincoln location, where she has served as a teacher and helped her peers achieve their fitness goals.
On days when she is feeling especially energetic, Mary is usually playing pickleball or shooting hoops at the YMCA’s basketball court. Being involved in other fun, recreational activities or improving her time on the treadmill are usually the top priorities on Mary’s mind when she visits the Y’s facility.
To outside observers, it may surprise them to know that Mary wasn’t always so outgoing, or passionate about healthy living. In fact, she hated the very mention of ‘exercise’ not too long ago, her coordinators said.
Mary, whose real name is being withheld to protect her identity, lives with a developmental disability and type 2 diabetes. Her physical and mental health conditions made it exceptionally challenging for her support staff at the Arc of Blackstone Valley to incorporate physical activity into her lifestyle.
Jon Robillard, Associate Director at the Arc of Blackstone Valley, says Mary’s progress can be attributed to her own determination and the positive encouragement she has received from the staff at the Y. “Positive support from staff, her service coordinator and director of her day programming have helped her tremendously stay on course,” Robillard said. “More importantly, thanks to the support of her direct support professional and positive feedback from the Y, her doctors have said her health has taken a turn for the better because of her workout routines.”
Mary, 56, who is originally from São Miguel, located in the Portuguese Azores archipelago, goes to the YMCA twice a week and spends more than an hour on the treadmill. She now walks more than two miles every session, seeking to beat her previous number of steps — a far cry from the 5 minute walks that used to exhaust her.
“Less than 2 years ago, she would’ve never considered getting out to do exercise and she was adamant that this was not an activity she wanted to do,” Robillard said. “We are proud to see her being so engaged in her workout routine, and taking positive steps towards her health goals every day.”
Mary is part of a group of individuals from the Arc of Blackstone Valley that exercise at the MacColl YMCA, which has been providing successful family programming for more than 60 years and has a 52,000-square foot facility that offers an array of workout services and amenities.
A John E. Fogarty Foundation grant has provided more than 30 individuals, including Mary, with memberships to the Y, which was selected to host the individuals because of the organization’s reputation for promoting healthy lifestyles and its long history of improving community health. Senior leaders at the YMCA of Pawtucket made special accommodations to help even more people like Mary take advantage of Fogarty Foundation’s generosity.
“Mary’s story is an inspiration to all of us at the YMCA. She reminds us about the important work that our staff perform on a daily basis, and we are hopeful that she can motivate others to lead healthier lives,” said Charlie Clifford, Chief Executive Officer at the YMCA of Pawtucket.
For people who don’t even know where to begin, Mary has bold words of encouragement, “Give it a try, don’t give up!”