By PAUL STONE
Roughly 60 years after first being introduced to the YMCA culture as a young boy growing up in Missouri, Freddie R. Lee found himself on somewhat familiar ground on Dec. 24, 2009.
Lee was closing in on his 70th birthday; battling depression; and coping with the unexpected loss of an adult son when he decided to take a positive step for his own self-preservation.
Fast forward 13 months from his return to the YMCA and Lee is more than 20 pounds lighter and has a greatly-improved outlook on life.
The retired Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officer, who moved to Anderson County from Kansas almost 40 years ago, thanks the YMCA for his life-changing transformation.
“I’m like most people,” Lee, who turned 70 last month, said following his Monday afternoon workout. “I have good days and bad days, but I still get up and come. I would recommend it to any senior.”
Five days before the nation’s 9/11 tragedy, Lee had stent implantation surgery to repair an artery with more than 90 percent blockage. The following year in 2002 he retired from the TDCJ’s Michael Unit when he was unable to return to work.
A bout with depression followed. He lacked socialization in his life and needed a positive change.
As a young boy growing up in the heart of the Ozarks in Springfield, Mo., Lee was exposed early in life to the positive influence of the YMCA. One of eight children, his father was a laborer who worked in the region’s lead and zinc mines at one time.
Wages were never high, but his family unit was a solid one with “conservative Christian values” and a commitment to “self-preservation.”
Money, however, was far from plentiful.
“We were poor,” Lee smiled, “but we didn’t know it because everybody else was.”
As early as the late 1940s and prior to even his 10th birthday, Lee recalled spending much of his after-school time and summers at either the Optimist Club in his neighborhood or the YMCA in downtown Springfield.
“They gave us some place to go,” he pointed out, “besides the streets.”
Lee fondly remembered graduating from “minnow to shark” in the YMCA’s swimming program and being shown through various other Y offerings “that there was a world outside” of Springfield.
Some 60 years later, Lee, who was struggling with depression and facing his own mortality with health problems beginning to creep into his life, realized there was a need for change.
And, when he thought about it, he knew where to turn.
“When I brought myself out of it, I knew the YMCA would be supportive of me,” said Lee, who has lived in Elkhart for approximately 40 years.. “A body in motion tends to stay in motion, a body at rest tends to stay at rest. I knew that the Y was available and I knew that I needed it.”
After working out a monthly membership fee to fit his budget, Lee started going to the Palestine YMCA on Christmas Eve 2009 and has been a regular attendee ever since.
“They set me up on a membership program,” Lee said. “The fellowship with the staff and fellow members...has been tremendous for me.”
Lee, who is 5-10, weighed approximately 185 pounds when he became reacquainted with the YMCA. Today, he tips the scales at a fit 161 pounds and is “still losing weight.”
Lee typically shows up at the YMCA around mid-day Monday through Friday. He splits his time mostly between the treadmill and upper body weight machines.
“Depending on how I feel, I spend 30 minutes or an hour visiting and exercising,” said Lee, who also works out some Saturdays. “After that, I go eat and then I go home...I come here for the fellowship and the exercise.”
Sharyn Hightower, wellness director at the Palestine YMCA, said some potential members, especially seniors, may believe the Y is too “expensive” for their budget.
Some insurance plans essentially pay for some seniors’ memberships, while other seniors qualify for reduced membership plans based on their personal and economic circumstances, she stated.
The socialization aspect of the Y is critical for many older members.
“Some just come to play dominoes and hang out and to be around young people and children,” Hightower said.
Since becoming a member, Hightower said Lee has clearly increased his flexibility and improved his outlook on life.
“I definitely can see he’s getting stronger,” Hightower said. “He’s moving faster. He says it’s really brightened up his life.”
Lee hopes his story encourages someone to take a step to improve their health and quality of life.
“There are so many seniors sitting out there, thinking that ‘I can’t’ where if they would just approach (the YMCA) they probably could,” Lee offered.
Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com