A fitting partnership

Exercise: Harford athletic clubs are finding the developmentally disabled among their most enthusiastic members.

August 08, 2004|By Sarah Merkey | Sarah Merkey,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On a recent Friday after her shift ended, Mary Beth Reich, an employee in the nursery at the Arena Club in Churchville, quickly ate her lunch so she could go swimming in the fitness club's outdoor pool.

The Friday swims are important to her. "I met a lot of good friends," said Reich.

She and her friends are beneficiaries of a flourishing partnership involving several health and fitness clubs in Harford County and The Arc Northern Chesapeake Region, an organization that provides assistance to individuals with developmental disabilities.

In the partnership, members of The Arc, such as Reich, are offered the chance to improve their fitness and at the same time interact with the community at large.

"Our philosophy is not to have people be off separate from the rest of the world," said Linda Corea of The Arc.

People with developmental disabilities are not often given an opportunity to exercise and, as a result, face a higher risk of becoming overweight and developing health problems, according to The Arc.

So the Bel Air Athletic Club, for example, allows Arc participants to use its facilities three hours on weekdays. The Arena Club, in Churchville, offers an hour-long aerobic swim Thursdays and Fridays. Both charge $3 per visit. Quest Fitness Center in Abingdon runs a chair aerobics class for free.

Kelly Newman, owner of Quest, first decided to begin offering the aerobics class after she attended a meeting about The Arc's programs.

"We were actually pretty moved by what The Arc did," said Newman.

Former owners of the Bel Air Athletic Club, Roger and Elaine Ralph, formed the first fitness center partnership with The Arc five years ago, and it has continued under the ownership of the Wellbridge Co.

Arc members "have been an inspiration to me and to the members of ours who may be dragging themselves in to come exercise," said Katie Strickland, operations director at the Bel Air Athletic Club.

Beate Cook, a recreational aide employed by The Arc, said the main goal is to make everyone feel comfortable and develop a program specific to each individual.

"Each one has different capabilities, different stamina," Cook said. "Each one has their own program that they work at -- at their own pace."

Cook supervises exercises that target the cardiovascular system, including swimming and walking the track. She said she takes great care to ensure that no one gets hurt and that everyone has fun.

"The variety is much better than doing the same old thing," said Cook. "I rarely lose somebody from the program. They like exercising -- they do it with joy."

Ellen Driver met Cook at Bel Air Athletic Club last Thursday prepared to swim. Driver said she likes to swim at the club, but her favorite activity is using the rowing machine. Cook and Driver sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" while Driver rows. Driver also plays basketball.

"And we don't quit until she does 10 baskets," Cook said. "And she does 10 in 10 minutes -- isn't that amazing?"

The Quest aerobics class, taught by volunteer Lynne Thackston, has more than 20 Arc members in it. Participants sit on chairs and do a variety of arm and leg movements choreographed to upbeat music.

"This is a group of people that need a lot of support physically. This is good for people with a lot of limitations," said Corea, noting that when songs popular with the group are played, "these guys absolutely love to dance."

Joe Cardiff has been attending the aerobics class since its beginning about a year ago.

"I have stronger arms, and my stomach's been coming down a lot," Cardiff said. "And I have more strength in my legs.

"I like the routine," Cardiff continued. "Everyone [is] much stronger after every time we come here."

The routine includes reaching in the air and simulating jumping rope while sitting.

"We don't change a lot," Thackston said of the aerobic exercises. "They seem to like doing what they're comfortable with and when they know what's coming next.

"I will say out of all the classes I teach," Thackston said, "this group enjoys it the most."

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