Rye Y Story Project: Jack

Finding a New Life at the Y

I had a bad construction accident. Two stories and a ladder collapsed. I cracked my head open, had neck, back and nerve damage down both legs. It was horrible. I lost everything. It ruined my life. My livelihood was totally gone in a few seconds. You don’t realize it could be you.

At first, I refused to get rods in my back, refused to get neck surgery. I held out for 3, 4 years. I was getting steroid injections every six weeks, then off 3 months, alternating neck and back. I had a false sense of feeling better but the side effects were bad. I gained 40, 50 pounds. It affected my personality.

One day my doctor suggested I look into swimming. I was always a good swimmer as a kid. He said “There’s a YMCA in Rye, why don’t you check it out?” After months and months of him telling me to do that, I finally pulled into the Y. I walked in and behind the counter in a little office was Barbara Hughes. I told her I was considering joining for physical reasons. I’m thinking we are going to have a 2-minute conversation. She asked everything about me and I told her. She said “Jack, this is where you need to be. I don’t care if it’s 5 minutes a day. Just get here.” I said “What?” I was taken aback. I didn’t even know her. I was just inquiring about what the Y has to offer, how much it charges.

This was 8 years ago and I was in a very dark place. I had lost everything. So I joined. I came one day. I was very, very uncomfortable. I didn’t look good. I was always into sports so I was never insecure but now, after the hell I’d gone through in the last couple years, I felt embarrassed. I would last 5 minutes in the water, feel uncomfortable and get out, get dressed and go to the car. Sometimes I would drive to the parking lot, put my car in park and next thing you know, put it in reverse and just leave.

After 3 weeks, I decided I wasn’t coming back. I tried it, it wasn’t for me. A lot of people join gyms, you go in and scan and nobody knows you’re there. All of a sudden my phone rings. And it’s Barbara. She says, “Jack, How are you doing? I notice you haven’t been here.”   How does this woman who has hundreds of members know that I didn’t make it in? Meanwhile, her office is back there behind the check-in desk; she couldn’t see everybody. She must be going through the computer. She says “Jack you’ve got to come.” I had every excuse in the book and threw every excuse at her.   “You’ve just got to get here, I don’t care if it’s just 5 minutes.” She just kept repeating, “this is where you need to be, this is where you belong, this is a family.”

So next thing you know I started coming more and more. There were still those days that I’d last 5 minutes in the pool and get out, and days where I’d pull into the parking lot and pull out before I got out of the car. Then I’d stop for 2 or 3 weeks and sure enough, my phone would ring and there is Barbara saying “Jack, where have you been, you’ve got to get in here my dear. This is where you belong.” And I’m wondering how does this woman even care?

I was just trying to hide and didn’t want to be in sight anywhere. I was very uncomfortable in my own skin. I was like a church mouse, couldn’t talk – now people wish I could shut up! The Y literally saved my life. I started coming 15 minutes, 30 minutes. After 4 or 5 months, I met Anna, the lifeguard. I started telling her what Barbara said. She said “She’s right. You’ve just got to get here.” And I said “You too? What is it, everyone who works here is giving the same speech!” So now Anna would notice when I wasn’t around, ask if I was OK.

Next thing you know, between both of them, they wouldn’t let me stop, even if I wanted to. Barbara must have called me 100 times that first year. I gave in. I just started showing up. I started feeling better and losing the weight. I started eating better. I started coming more and more. And it worked. Anna and I had a great friendship. Then a year later, I get my back surgery so I’m laid up. Like clockwork, Barbara calls. I said I’m rehabbing. I’ll be in in 3 or 4 weeks. Sure enough, I don’t even make it to 4 weeks and that phone rings. She got me back here. Then I had the neck surgery and had to start over again. I had an ear surgery and found out I couldn’t go swimming for 14 months. I didn’t know what to do.

Barbara tells me they have a Fitness Center upstairs. I’ve been coming almost 3 years now and I didn’t know anything about upstairs. I started going up there and doing the bicycle thing and a little weight training. That was a rough year but I was able to work through it. Then I got back into the pool and I realized I kind of liked it upstairs because when you’re in the pool for 3 years, you’re not talking to anyone, just looking at that black line every 3 seconds. I started going upstairs and became friendly with staff and members. Things were going great.

Then I came down with thyroid cancer. And that knocked me off my feet. I thought I was done with the YMCA. Until my phone rings and there is Barbara asking “Where are you, I know you’ve been sick, but this is where you belong.” So I came back.

I met Diana in the Fitness Center and Laura, then some of the trainers. They really listen and go out of their way to help. It really is family. I started volunteering. I met Kathy in Child Care and I volunteered at Halloween and Christmas for the kid parties. I started giving back and feeling the family thing. And the trainers upstairs – Coach George and Jason – they’re training people but they see you doing something wrong, they’ll say – listen keep your back straight – they are not even training you, but they go out of their way to help. The doors are always open here. It really is a community. It took me years and years to realize that. I wouldn’t be here right now without the Y. This place saved my life