The Valley Shore YMCA, located on Spencer Plains Road in Westbrook, is losing its number one exercise instructor. She is Lisa Laing, better known, simply as “Lisa” by her many friends and admirers. Lisa, who lives in Ivoryton, has been teaching four straight, one hour sessions, of advanced exercise classes, three days a week, at the Y since 1993. Her last day of teaching these exercise classes at the Y was on Thursday, May 29.
Central to Lisa’s exercise philosophy has been that she wanted every one of her students to do the best that they possibly could with each of the exercises. Also, while her students were doing their exercises, she, herself, did them as well. This meant that when an exercise called for balancing on one leg, Lisa balanced on one leg; when the exercise called for going down on the mat, Lisa too went down on the map; and when the exercise called for rolling over, Lisa, herself, rolled her body over as well,
In addition to doing each exercise with her students, Lisa at the same time called out instructions, no matter how contorted her own body at that particular moment. Worth noting as well, her exercise sessions were non-stop, one exercise after another, unrelenting.
Furthermore, Lisa not only taught a one hour exercise class at nine o’clock, she taught another at ten o’clock, yet another at eleven o’clock, and finally another at noon. This meant that she was teaching and exercising for four hours straight. Nor did she skimp in doing all the exercises herself with her students. Three days a week, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, this was her schedule. The stamina, the refusal to admit fatigue, and to just keep going at each session, almost defies imagination. How did she ever do this crushing schedule for so long?
It was no wonder that her students held a party for her to show their appreciation in the final days of this schedule at the Y. No less than 150 people attended to party to play tribute to Lisa. “I was stunned and honored” by the turnout, she said modestly.
At her last exercise session on May 29 a number of her students were asked what they thought about Lisa. This is what they said:
Ann Bates of Essex, “She affords an inspirational opportunity to be physically fit. Also, she knows how to modify the exercises so that everyone is on board.”
Michelle Davis of Old Lyme, “I think it is a wonderful testament to her. She has brought me a long way.”
Norma Rogin of Essex, “She is the best,”
Janet Fay of Westbrook, “She has been an inspiration to us.
Fred Scribner of Old Saybrook, who was one of the few males in the exercise sessions, “Lisa has kept me alive, keeping my heart and other organs functioning.”
Ursula Wilson of Essex, “She is extremely energetic, and she is fun to exercise with.”
Lisa’s Unique Insights about Exercise
“What I have seen,” Lisa says, “is that many people are ‘scared,’ when they first consider exercising.” It seems that, “they are almost afraid of breaking something.” However, others approach exercising as “something new and exciting,” she says. Also, she points out, when someone is new to exercising, “We are very conscious of their safety, and of working at a person’s own level.”
Lisa says that one of her teaching secrets is that, “I am great about asking people’s names.” Also, she also loves, “to see the growth and new vitality by people who once were self-professed couch potatoes.” She continues, “I love to witness peoples’ little ‘ah’ moment, when they realize that they have accomplished something,” by exercising.
She observes, “I am a nut about form, and about people doing things correctly. When you do something properly, you don’t get hurt.” She also says that she has witnessed cases where n “people could barely walk [and] five or ten years later they were dancing to the music. They worked so hard.”
Also, in teaching exercising Lis says, “I count my success in hugs, and I give a lot of hugs.”
Not Totally Leaving the Y
Lisa says that although she will no longer be teaching a full schedule of exercise classes at the Y, she will continue to help lead the Y’s “Hope Is Power,” a program for cancer survivors. This wellness group meets two times a week with one hour and a half sessions. Lisa, herself, is a certified Cancer Exercise Specialist, and she co-leads the program with fellow instructor, Linda Lawton.
After taking the full summer off, Lisa says that next fall she will be exploring new opportunities, especially in the area of helping people continue their fitness programs. “Fitness is about community,” she says, “and it makes me happy to serve the community.” As for her future, she says, “I want to work with adults, so they can continue having healthy lives.”