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Locker room upgrades add to Y experience

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News / January 10, 2019
Twenty-one days. Three weeks.

That’s the rule of thumb for how long it takes someone to get in a routine of regular exercise. With the start of a New Year, many people have already made their resolutions to live healthier lives in 2019. Now comes the key part: Making it so.

The YMCA of South Boston/Halifax County wants to make that follow-through easy: the Y offers plenty of options for people to be more vibrant in their daily lives. From yoga to water exercise to a little time walking on a treadmill each day, wellness comes in many flavors at the local Y.

“They say 21 days is the time it takes for someone to make something a habit,” says Neil Smiley, board chairman of the South Boston/Halifax County YMCA. “It’s like a New Year’s resolution — people get through two weeks.” But all too often, resolve fades and people lapse into old habits. The Y has a plan to keep that from happening. And making the Y a rewarding and fun place to be is a big part of the equation.

First things first: If you haven’t visited the Y in a while, you’ll immediately notice the recent major improvements: the latest being the top-to-bottom overhaul of the locker rooms. Gone are the dingy surfaces and chock-a-bloc floor plan of the old locker rooms, along with the lockers themselves. Both women’s and men’s locker rooms have been outfitted with all-new lockers (wider and more spacious than before), new sinks, toilets and showerheads, completely redone flooring, LED lighting, vastly improved climate control systems and bright and colorful paint. In rearranging the locker room layouts, the Y also carved out two family changing rooms for families with young children and for individuals with mobility challenges. It’s a huge step forward for the entire Y experience.

The heart of that experience — for newbies and workout fiends alike — is the various workout options available at a single facility. The YMCA offers free weights, Nautilus exercise machines, spin cycles, treadmills, stair climbers, elliptical equipment, a racketball court, an indoor pool and outdoor walking track. Much of the action takes place inside the Leggett Family Wellness Center and the adjoining group fitness center, where classes meet to enjoy Pilates, chair exercises for seniors, yoga, spin cycling, hip hop dancing and much more. With yoga alone, there are classes tailored for all levels, from the novice to the longtime devotee: “I don’t even think it [yoga] was something that was here in the county or South Boston before the Y,” said Smiley.

Kristen Zerbato, the Y’s executive director, points to another asset that helps people stick to wellness routines: the instructors, trainers and fitness coaches who can show you how to use the workout equipment, or master a new skill such as swimming or weighlifting. In particular, the availability of swim classes at the indoor aquatic center “is something I like to stress,” said Zerbato. “Because some older folks think, ‘I don’t know how to swim.’ It’s never too late to learn … it’s in me to reach out to the community and help people be comfortable with that life skill.”

Each major aspect of the YMCA facility — the Leggett Family Center, the pool, the locker rooms — has undergone a major upgrade since the South Boston center affiliated three years ago with the YMCA of South Hampton Roads. (Zerbato came to South Boston from South Hampton Roads two years ago.) In fact, the Y has not only made past upgrades, it has adopted a capital improvement plan going forward: under a three-year cycle for the replacement of workout equipment, new machines and free weights are set to arrive in the spring.

Before this month is out, the Y will be adding a computer hardware/software product that has proven very popular at the South Hampton Roads YMCA: ActivTrax, which helps people formulate a workout routine that works for them. “It’s a program where you come in on Day 1 and meet with a fitness coach, sit down in a private room and decide what your goals are — whether it’s to lose weight, or improve your muscle tone, or build muscle mass,” said Zerbato.

To start, a fitness coach will conduct a strength test and input the data into the computer, which in turn produces a workout routine that you can begin the next day. At the end of each workout, you can leave a log that the staff will input into the computer, which tallies up points based on how you did. Once you reach a certain number of points, you get a free prize: perhaps a t-shirt or a coffee mug. Exercise can even take place outside the confines of the Y: “You can do yard work all day and that counts for getting your free prizes,” said Zerbato. The idea, of course, is to incentivize people to adopt healthy living habits.

Improvements at the South Boston Y are ongoing: the final major renovation to the building, a refurbished lobby and Stay ‘n’ Play children area, is in the works for either later this year or next. “Final stage construction is slated for 2020, but I think we’ll get it done sooner than that,” said Smiley. “The locker rooms were set for 2019, but we got that done in 2018 … We are continuing to rebuild a Y that the community can be proud of. It’s a great asset for the community.”

January is a great time to check out the Y: there’s no joining fee through the month. Plus, there’s no obligation to pay annual dues if you join but later decide the Y isn’t right for you; dues are assessed on a month-to-month basis. All members also are entitled to three free personal fitness sessions with a trainer or coach, and many of the classes are free or discounted for Y members.

Plus, the YMCA offers financial aid based on need to offset the cost of monthly dues and program fees. “We provide financial assistance for all of our programs, whether it’s our swimming or fitness or indoor soccer or t-ball,” said Zerbato. “That’s one of the things that makes us a non-profit.”

Preventive health and wellness “is where we’re at,” added Zerbato, who has been a YMCA staffer for 10 years, primarily with the South Hampton Roads organization. “I’m really happy to see how health and wellness have become part of the culture of the area. That’s what you want to see in a community — people working together to improve their health and working to improve the Y. Pulling together is what a community should do.”

To find out more about becoming a member of the YMCA of South Boston/Halifax County, visit them on the web at or at their Facebook page (@ymcasbhc), or call 434-572-8909. Or better yet, drop by the Hamilton Boulevard location and check out for yourself what the community’s YMCA has to offer.

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