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Tony Sharillo, CEO of the Valley Shore YMCA in Westbrook, is photographed at the new Brady Wellness Center on August 19, 2022.
Personal trainer Josh MacNiven, top, spots Jonathan Nichele of Old Lyme as he does bench presses at the Valley Shore YMCA’s Brady Wellness Center in Westbrook on August 19, 2022.
Cheri Balducci of Westbrook works out at the Valley Shore YMCA’s Brady Wellness Center in Westbrook on August 19, 2022.
Tony Mosa of Essex works out on a stationary bicycle at the Valley Shore YMCA’s Brady Wellness Center in Westbrook on August 19, 2022.
WESTBROOK — Built over an old, filled-in pool, the new gym at the Brady Wellness Center at the Valley Shore Y is light-filled and temperature controlled. It looks more like a boutique fitness studio.
Banks of sleek, state-of-the-art machines made of aluminum, carbon steel and other metal alloys have that distinctive “new” gym smell and are smooth to operate.
The newness doesn’t stop there. The updated lobby has new flooring and paint both in a wave motif, a nod to its shoreline location, plus all new fixtures and furniture, Tony Sharillo, CEO of Valley Shore pointed out with pride.
Previously, the gym was located in the basement and one member jokingly called it “the cave.” But, Sharillo noted, “We didn’t bring anything up from downstairs.” Group classes still are held in the downstairs area, however.
The gym opened earlier this year; its official ribbon-cutting with local officials took place in August.
“This used to be a pool,” Sharillo said, standing in the bright, spacious gym. “The pool had a failure and we had to replace it. We had contractors come in and we had experts come in and they said, ‘you cannot repair this pool, you need to just fill it in.’”
That was in 2015. Two years later, Valley Shore started a capital campaign with the goal of raising $4.5 million. But after reaching $3.3 million, they decided to do the project in phases, with the Wellness Center kicking off the project costing some $1.3 million.
“It was like a tin aluminum pool sitting in the dirt — it was supposed to last 20 years, it lasted over 40,” Sharillo described. “We filled it in with concrete and we built this on top of it.”
Fortunately, the Valley Shore Y had two pools — the other is a heated, 25-yard pool with six lanes, built in 2001 that members use now. And it’s a “busy pool,” he added.
In the capital campaign, lead donor Bob Brady issued the Brady Challenge in which he matched donors’ gifts. The amount of Brady’s gift is undisclosed at his request. Brady had been a lifelong member of the Y, as was his father, according to Sharillo.
The Valley Shore Y, which served the shoreline community for 105 years — 48 years at its current location on Spencer Plains Road, sought input from members on the project.
“We started with community assessments, needs surveys, speaking with community stakeholders, community leaders,” Sharillo said. “And figure out what does the community need, how can the Y support that.
“The overwhelming response was they wanted a state-of-the-art Y on the shoreline that could support people staying healthy and well, as well as provide programming in an outdoor space,” he said.
In the gym, a piped in Jackson Browne song and the clang of weights and soft whirr of treadmills are background noise. Members work out on treadmills and various machines including recumbent bikes, stair treads, spin bikes, ellipticals and other specialized equipment.
Member Mark Gelven of Clinton was there with his daughter Rachel. He enthusiastically approved of the new fitness center, saying, “I love it — it’s such an improvement.
“The old gym was great. We used to call it the cave — it was in the basement,” he said. “This is just much nicer, it’s open, better ventilation, the equipment.”
Director of Health and Wellness Ellen Nichele is thrilled with the Wellness Center, beaming when talking about it.
“The reaction has absolutely been amazing. People are so happy to be here,” she said, smiling. “Everything’s new, it’s modern, it’s clean.”
And the new space has attracted new members.
“It’s wonderful to see all the new faces,” she said, noting that they have a diverse membership from seniors and “beginners right up to body builders” and athletes.
Membership is about 3,500, with some 600 new members, according to Sharillo, who noted that the Y is still trying to regain its pre-COVID numbers and it is at 86 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
On a recent Monday morning, the gym was busy.
“Oh my God, it’s beautiful here,” said Cheri Balducci, walking on a treadmill. A summer resident, she comes to the Y with her husband. Both enjoy taking walks outdoors together, she said, but have found a new place to work out together in the summer heat.
“It’s been so hot … we can’t walk outside, it’s way too hot, so we come here,” Balducci said.
“I just walk on the treadmill,” she added. “My husband does the whole round while I’m walking and then we go home. Its works out great.”
In one corner of the gym, Rachel Gelven, 19, was doing hip thrusts with a weighted barbell weighing 225 pounds. She took a break to talk about the new center.
“I really like it especially compared to what we had, when it was downstairs,” Gelven said. “It all feels very new and unused and I think it works well. It makes the workouts even better. It makes the environment nicer.”
As Nichele gave a tour of the facility, she stressed, “We’re more of a community, we’re not just a gym.” She noted that they have floor staff to help and offer personal training for an additional fee.
For new members, after a 30- to 45-minute orientation, “We create a workout for you,” she said, included in the membership.
One of Nichele’s favorite machines is a special treadmill favored by runners, called performance treads which is easier on the joints as it offers a softer landing. The machine has a springier, cushiony surface.
Some of their “hardcore athletes” prefer this, Sharillo added.
Nichele also pointed to the new expanded “functional training space” where members can use free weights and they can hold “small group training” based on MX4 workouts and do body weight exercises.
It’s “an area that people can do their own workouts on,” she said. “They stretch, they do their box jumps here, their kettle bell swings.”
Other favorites among members include Smith machines [weight machines] where one can do squat presses and TRX machines, which offer suspension training and are having a recent surge in popularity.
“We have floor staff to make sure that they [members] are safe,” she said about using the more challenging equipment.
The center has an array of strength machines, which Nichele recommends for those who aren’t comfortable with free weight training. The new space has more than twice the number of machines, she added.
There are crank cycles for shoulders, upper arms — especially helpful for those who have issues with lower mobility or recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery. It is also good for those with shoulder issues..
There are also rowers where “you can really crank up the tension” and get a full body workout, and especially target the legs, Nichele said.
There is also the stationary sled, which is on a sort of treadmill, which Nichele said, “It’s pretty cool. It’s hard.”
And that may be the level of challenge that some gym rats come for.
For more information visit vsymca.org.
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