Whether fishing or building, running or biking, sailing or kayaking, islanders have many options for staying active in the summer. But once traps are hauled and roads buried under ice and snow, getting exercise becomes more difficult. For some islands, fitness facilities provide important access to indoor exercise in the off-season.
For islands in Penobscot Bay, gym access is becoming the norm. In 2009, North Haven converted its community building—formerly used as a school gym, basketball court and theatre—into a branch of the Penobscot Bay YMCA. “We had this large empty building in good shape, so I called Troy Curtis, the executive director, and asked if they would be willing to help us select equipment and guide us in setting up a fitness center,” said North Haven town administrator Joe Stone. “They jumped in much more enthusiastically than I had expected because they considered the islands as part of their mission territory.”
“The center’s only as good as the local people we have engaged and passionate about the work,” said Curtis. The North Haven “Y” has a membership of nearly 100 people, most from the year-round community, and offers group exercise classes in general fitness and Pilates. The North Haven Clinic partnered with the Y for a joint wellness challenge, which was helpful in introducing people to the fitness facility, according to family nurse practitioner Dorie Henning. Henning says that the Y is an “essential resource for island residents to improve and maintain health and mental well-being.”
North Haven is also home to Nancy’s Body Shop, a wood-floored studio owned by Nancy Hopkins-Davisson. The space has hosted everything from aerobics classes, led by Hopkins-Davisson, to Reiki and massage sessions, and most recently, Kripalu-style yoga. Kat Alexander, who received her Kripalu teaching certificate in March 2011, leads four sessions each week. “In a lot of ways, Kripalu is a really good match for North Haven. Instead of a practitioner finding how they (the students) fit into a style of yoga, Kripalu meets you exactly where you are,” she said, adding that she is happy to see new people continuing to come to her classes.
Vinalhaven residents work out at Aerofit, a gym owned by soccer coach and lobsterman Richard Carlsen. “I just want everybody to be healthy,” he said. Carlsen leads a “Biggest Loser”-style challenge each year, and offers a modified P90X group exercise class as well. He emphasizes the social element a gym offers, particularly in the winter. “People are snuggled into their house in the winter here and having a gym gives them an option. They do well in groups,” he said.
The Islesboro Community Center, newly opened in 2010, is home to the island’s fitness center. They offer yoga, Zumba and Zumba Gold, occasional weight training classes and a group exercise class called “Fit For Life,” according to Greg Barron, the center’s manager. “Our policy is to have trained folks come in,” he said, adding that whenever possible they try to find services they can provide from island residents to help mitigate the logistics of transporting personnel from the mainland.
Like Vinalhaven, the Islesboro Community Center offers residents a “Biggest Loser” program. The Islesboro Health Center is often involved in fitness center activities. “They offer support and consultation to us. We lean on them, we work with them, all the PAs are members here so they bounce ideas around and come in and give people some direction as to what exercises might work for them given their situations. It’s nice for us to be able to have this facility for them to direct their patients to,” said Barron.
For Kelley Rich, executive director of the Chebeague Recreation Center on Great Chebeague in Casco Bay, the fitness room and pool are “a way to enhance the lives of the people and have a healthy lifestyle.”
The CRC was built in 1998 and expanded in 2004. The 36- by 75-foot heated pool saw more than 630 swimmers in 2011 and the fitness center has more than 142 pass holders. Many of the center’s certified swim instructors and lifeguards are island residents.
The building is handicapped accessible and provides recreational opportunities for children, the elderly and everyone in between. “I can’t imagine not having it. Living out here, everything’s so limited in what you can do and here anyone of any age can get in,” Rich said.
Whatever the equipment and classes each facility has to offer, once winter sets in and the snow is on the ground, island fitness centers become invaluable.
Courtney Naliboff is a teacher and freelance writer on North Haven.