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Finding Community at the YMCA 

Article by Manda Dillon

Photography by Teri Keller

My husband and I moved to Michigan in October of 2014 and did not know a single person in the entire state. We were fortunate enough to make some connections with his coworkers, but I longed for more. We had so loved our YMCA in Oklahoma City and I missed my sweaty workouts and post pump chats with friends. I looked up our local YMCA and we joined immediately. 

I started frequenting group exercise classes and chatting up the people around me. We’d lock eyes after a particularly hard portion of the class and share exhausted smiles. After class I’d have an instructor or regular participant walk up and welcome me to the group. I was grateful for their kindness and it kept me coming back. I loved commiserating and celebrating on our way out the door. 

I quickly became what’s known as a front row diva. I always stood near the front, I never missed a class, and I got to know the choreography well enough that I’d sub in for a song or two if the instructor needed to pop out for a minute. I was fully immersed in this community and loved that I had found a place where everyone knew my name. 

During this time my husband and I became pregnant with our twin boys and I was elated to share the news with my gym friends. When we began sharing our big news we were met with LOTS of big news from some of my best class friends. There must have been something in the water because the instructor of my favorite class and multiple other participants were pregnant and due within a couple weeks of us. 

We bopped around class with our big pregnant bellies, shared remedies for late night heartburn and back pain, kept up with the latest news on our growing babies, and noticed when one by one each person stopped coming because they got too pregnant or had delivered their little one. We kept in contact via text and shared baby pictures and congratulations. 

Just a few short months later and there we all were back at the YMCA dropping off our chubby buddies in child watch and walking to class together. Once again I found myself working out amongst my friends, but this time on the way out we’d snag our kiddos and head to the park for picnic lunches and chats about formula and diapers. 

My husband and I often reminisce about how we made this leap to a foreign place with no local connections and I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to the YMCA. These women became my support system, my motivators, my sounding boards, and my friends. For that community, I will forever be grateful. 

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