By Stephen B. Wilson

Mary Coffey, YWCA Director of Events, has been repurposing no longer used items in the home to create decorative art.

This is the sixth in a continuing series of articles meant to share the rich range of programs and services offered by YWCA Cortland.  It was suggested that because of the closing of the facility due to the coronavirus, it might be of interest to learn what some members of the organization have done to replace the Health and Fitness classes, the creative arts instruction, the social gatherings, the special meals and celebrations, the mentoring and meditation sessions, and the family swim parties that were so much a part of their lives.  Here are a few selected profiles.

Alice and Charlie Anderson of Homer used to be physically active at the YW on average five days per week, Charlie in the weight room and Alice in the cycling class and the women’s weight room class.  She is certain that these exercises were much more effective when done with others than when attempting to continue them away from the proper equipment in the facility.  Both have resorted to walking around their house despite the cold weather.  In order to keep mentally challenged, Alice does five or six brain exercises daily and has begun to keep a journal and to write notes to friends.  Because they are both retired U. S. Air Force officers, the Andersons have enjoyed lengthy travels across the country but have had to fend off frustration and depression now that they are “grounded.”  But with a wry smile, Alice says that in addition to her other activities, “I also have chocolate every day.”

Katie and David Farber, also of Homer, have both utilized the facilities at the YWCA for years.  David has used the treadmill and weights in the weight room, but now that these are not available, he walks 3-4 miles several days each week.  He also cares for the couple’s animals (chickens and horses) and splits and stacks firewood for the following winter.  Katie misses her water exercises and cycling class but substitutes those workouts with walking.  She has begun making face coverings as a gesture of support during the COVID-19 crisis. She is grateful to have the support and company of David in these potentially lonely times.

Andrea Rankin and Paul Pitkin of Cortlandville have for many years been practitioners of vigorous workouts at the YW, Paul as a member of the cycling class and a user of the coed weight room and Andrea as a member of the Cardio Combo, Kickboxing, Aerobics, and Bosu classes.  Now that those activities are unavailable, Paul rides his (real) bike at least 8 miles a day, and Andrea often accompanies him on hers.  Their preferred route is through the countryside, where they are greeted by the cows and horses that come to the edge of the road to cheer them on their way as they pass. They maintain social contacts by using FaceTime and Skype, talking with family and friends scattered across the country.  They even have a regular virtual Happy Hour Sundays at 4:30.

Eilene West of Cortland, who will turn 90 years young in June, is probably the most senior YWCA member.  When the YW was in session, she was a familiar sight arriving for and then leaving her early morning Cardio Combo class.  She now gets her exercise by walking around her neighborhood of Lamont Circle. Her social contact with her many friends is now accomplished by phone.

Amy Simrell of Etna, the former Executive Director of YWCA Cortland, has been forced by the pandemic to establish yet another new daily routine after having made the same adjustment upon retiring.  While she misses her exercises in the “scrumptiously warm pool” and in the yoga class, her physical activity now is the hard work of “restoring flower beds taken over by goldenrod and wild aster while [her] back was turned.”  She also takes long walks outside and has “fabricated reasons to go upstairs and downstairs more than usual” in the old farmhouse she shares with her husband Harry.  Through the wonders of twenty-first century technology she remains active in the committees, Boards, and clubs of which she is a member.  She now has more time to send cards to the many members of her extended family, including her two grandchildren.  But she is quick to say that “nothing beats the sense of community [she] experiences at the YWCA.”

Dorothy Troike of Cortland has taken the cycling class at the YW long enough to have ridden at least two thousand miles if “her” bike (as it has been designated by the other class members) had a second wheel!  In the absence of that class, she has taken up raking as her substitute exercise.  She has logged 20-25 hours doing this and has filled 30 (!) barrels of leaves, twigs, cones, and spruce tree needles.  For her, the coronavirus has had a silver lining:  she’s now two months ahead of her normal raking schedule.  She has put her newly conditioned muscles and abundance of free time to good use by putting her house in order.  She has tackled projects long delayed, such as polishing her silverware, sorting through years of records, photographs, and memorabilia, and learning to use the food processor.

Meryl Fish and Mary Coffey are staff members at the YWCA; Meryl is Director of Health and Fitness, and Mary is Director of Events.  Both combine the teaching of exercise classes with performing administrative tasks.  Because both are temporarily locked out of the facility, Meryl uses YouTube as a resource of exercises that can be done in a limited space, while Mary plays with and walks her two dogs around her neighborhood.  Both have found interesting and constructive ways to occupy their now-abundant free time.  Meryl, with the help of her 15-year-old son, is making her fourth attempt at planting a vegetable garden; Mary is repurposing no longer used items in the home to create decorative art.

I’ve saved the least interesting profile for last.  My activities at the YW included swimming in the tropically warm waters of the pool, using the co-ed weight room, and taking the thrice-weekly cycling class taught by Mary Coffey.  The loss of the latter has left a huge void in my social life.  The laughter-filled comments, the philosophical, religious, literary and (occasionally) political conversations, spoken at whatever pedaling tempo Mary had established, were the highlight of those days.  Now that these workouts are not available and softball has been lost for the entire summer, my most strenuous—and constructive—activity has been clearing the long-neglected undergrowth of brush in my 6 acres of woods in Cortlandville.  During pauses in the work, I sit looking up at the sky, sipping an adult beverage and eavesdropping on the murmurings of the still-bare trees as they gently caress each other in the wind, a sound that rivals the most beautiful music I’ve ever made in my career.

For those who might like to utilize the internet for websites that provide suggested exercises to use in their homes, the following have been furnished by some of the members profiled above: provides videos of exercises that can be used in limited space and for various levels of physical competence; covers exercises, healthy eating, recipes, and “my plate,” which helps calculate and track meals.

No internet?

PBS:  WCNY in Syracuse and WSKG in Binghamton offer exercise classes. Check local TV listings for times.

NOTE!  With any of the above suggestions you should do only what you can manage.  It’s always wise to consult with your family physician when starting a new exercise program.

Another antidote to the pandemic malaise from which we are all suffering would be Simple, Profound Meditation:  11:30-12:30 on Mondays; 3:30-4:30 on Thursdays.

Zoom ID:  call-in ID; 870 280 4879

Password:  3344.