MOUNT VERNON — At first glance, it appeared to be like other exercise classes offered at the Skagit Valley Family YMCA.
Instructors demonstrating and participants of varying ages duplicating numerous exercises situated in a circular circuit. There were the usual groans of disapproval through gnashed teeth and bated breath.
This workout, while daunting to some, paled in comparison to what these participants carry in their bodies and many continue to endure.
Take a closer look. You can see it in their eyes. Hear it in their voices. Sense it in their effort.
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This is the continuance of a battle with a ruthless foe: cancer.
At the Y, cancer patients and survivors continue their journey to recovery, gaining strength and support through the LIVESTRONG Foundation. It’s a program created for those patients who are in the fight, and for those who have survived and conquered.
After completing the 12-week physical activity and wellness course, participants receive a yellow shirt with “Alumni” emblazoned on the back. Often, veterans of the class return to lend a hand. These folks get a black shirt with “Mentor” printed on the back.
“They wear those shirts with pride,” said Erin McMillan, fitness and sports director. “Honestly, we had no idea how important those shirts would be.”
Alumnus Megan Anderson, 57, of Alger, says. “This has been a great place to come and train with others who have cancer. It’s great. It’s about healing. And they delve into so much more, like nutrition and yoga. It’s made a huge difference in my health. For me, just getting out of the house was a huge step. This program is very welcoming.”
Ann Crawford drives from Arlington to participate as an alumni.
“I believe wholeheartedly in the Livestrong program,” she said. “It provides an opportunity to meet people in a positive manner who are in the same situation. I am so glad I participated.”
The program is free and open to only cancer survivors. Participants can bring one support person.
To enroll, participants must have a doctor’s clearance and sign a release form. Paperwork is filled out and questions about the program are answered.
“I did a lot of calling to find what was out there,” said 67-year-old Joan Mason. “Once I found this, they assessed me and were very cautious. They explained everything to me.”
Mason said the key is a positive attitude, and this group has it.
“It’s a group class,” McMillan said. “However, we do offer individual plans. But we do it as a group. That is important. A big part of this program is participants set their own pace. It can be modified because there are days when they simply aren’t going to feel very good. We know that and we understand.
“This is also a support group, which is very important. They become like a little family. They have all traveled the same road and been through the same experiences. And here, they can talk openly about those experiences.”
Mike Brennan of Mount Vernon admitted to be apprehensive at first. It didn’t take long for him to garner the confidence necessary to work out.
“It’s all about the camaraderie,” he said. “That is very important. Everyone has something in common here. It’s just a great program and continues to be a great experience. I will absolutely be wearing one of those ‘Mentor’ shirts. It’s just one of those pay-it-forward things.”
Those who complete the program also get a six-month YMCA membership. McMillan said the YMCA doesn’t want cost to be a barrier to working out.
“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do this,” Mason said. “It is an awesome experience and I feel like I am on the trail to a full recovery.”
“We have participants who are terminal,” McMillan said. “So to them, their quality of life has become more important than their quantity of life. It is really inspiring. It’s an amazing attitude. They are either going to beat it or get beat trying.” exercise. The class involves tai chi, yoga, pool time and art as a conduit to healing.
“It’s not just fitness,” McMillan said. “We do all we can. We are very passionate about the Livestrong program.”
Participant are tested before the class on their cardio fitness, balance, flexibility, and upper and lower body strength. From those findings, instructors create customized workouts. Those numbers also give the participant a baseline upon which to improve.
And improve they do. McMillan said every individual has shown improvement. It’s more than just improving physical fitness; it has to do with their mental state and improving their quality of life.
“I feel much better physically and mentally,” Crawford said. “We took this group picture and I love looking back at it now and again. You really develop a sense of camaraderie with everyone. That is really important.”
Anderson said she hasn’t lost a pound, however, she feels much better.
“Cancer changed my life,” she said. “And now this program has changed my life. Right now, I am feeling better than ever. I feel fantastic.”