Valparaiso YMCA puts the community in senior activities

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Lee Cross Times Correspondent

The Valparaiso YMCA continues to help local seniors do more than just pass the time. At the Y, seniors can dance, swim, stretch, dive and more while socializing with their peers and having fun.

Alyse Kominakis, Wellness Programs Coordinator, spent six years at the Valpo YMCA. For the past year, she has taken on the program development role as Wellness Programs Coordinator.

She oversees all chronic disease prevention programs and all group exercise programs, including those for active seniors.

One of the main focuses of senior programming is the social component, Kominakis said.

People routinely arrive about 30 to 40 minutes before class to catch up with friends and relax before practice, she said, with friendships and connections that extend beyond the YMCA.

“We have a lot of seniors who say the Y is the reason they leave home,” she said.

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The Valpo YMCA has resumed the 8 p.m. group exercise classes popular before the pandemic.

In addition to Silver Sneakers fitness programming, the Valpo YMCA offers Zumba, yoga, pickleball and more.

The chair yoga class on Tuesday and Thursday has become the most popular. Kominakis said it was one of the most socially engaged classes, with participants meeting early to catch up.

It’s also very inclusive regardless of physical condition, allowing older adults to develop their flexibility, Kominakis said.

“It’s pretty amazing how much stretching and flexibility you can get from that 45 minutes of chair yoga,” she said.

Kominakis said other yoga offerings at the YMCA, particularly the advanced class, provide a community option for seniors.

Outside of yoga, another fitness-focused class at the YMCA is the Saturday RIPPED class, a low-impact option for beginners, while the “bootcamp” classes are the most advanced.

Becky Raderstorf, a Zumba instructor who served the Valpo YMCA for nine years, teaches all other RIPPED classes on Saturdays.

She highlighted the ways the class can be well-modified while still staying true to its namesake, an acronym standing for “resistance, intervals, plyometrics (like push-ups, throwing, and running), power, endurance, and diet.”

Raderstorf mentioned an 82-year-old participant in the RIPPED class.

“In this building, age is really just a number,” Kominakis said.

The Zumba taught by Becky Raderstorf has a loyal following, with some of her members having participated since Raderstorf began teaching it at the Valpo YMCA nine years ago.

“It’s about letting go of the stress of the day,” she said of Zumba, adding that for about an hour the lights go out and everyone enjoys the sound of the music.

Carrie Underwood’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Stretchy Pants” for the holidays are two favorite tracks she mentioned.

Classmates use portable 1 and 2.5 pound Zumba Toning Sticks to add resistance to their dance routines.

Bunny Callahan, a Zumba dancer for 15 years, said the music, the energy involved, and the frequent laughter make for a great class. She also talked about the role of Raderstorf.

“Without the instructor, this course is nothing,” Callahan said, adding that .Raderstorf is engaging and energetic.

Callahan is a retired kindergarten teacher who taught at St. Michael the Archangel in South Chicago. She also attends Chair Yoga and Silver Sneakers classes at the YMCA.

“My friends and I are each other’s cheerleaders,” Callahan said.

Barb Shelton, one of Callahan’s friends and Zumba classmates, sometimes has to convince herself to get off the couch, she said. But the class kept him coming back for five years. “It’s really fun to see the same people come back,” she said.

And there are seasonal delicacies. Shelton described how Raderstorf dresses throughout the year.

For Halloween, she sports a Michael Jackson lighted glove. A Santa hat makes an appearance for the holidays, green abounds for St. Patrick’s Day and for his birthday, Raderstorf goes all out, Shelton said.

Shelton taught special education through Porter County Education Services, primarily in Portage, before retiring.

Jerry Valdivia, one of the longest participants in the Zumba class, recognized his instructor’s cheerful manner.

“Becky was born with a smile on her face,” Valdivia said.

“Instructors like Becky create this perfect environment,” Kominakis said.

This adds to the YMCA’s long tradition of fun and excitement, making retirement a little less mundane and a little more social.

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Richard V. Johnson