Twenty years ago during an afternoon in Manhattan, Eddie Parker slouched in the showroom of his ladies’ handbag business, uninspired and unfulfilled.
A bicycle messenger stopped in front of Mr. Parker’s store. He entered panting, bathed in sweat, sporting a smile brighter than the reflectors on the bike parked outside. Endorphins racing through his body, the messenger happily delivered a package and exited the store.
“That’s when the light went on,” Parker says. “I realized in my showroom that I didn’t want to be there anymore.”
Islanders can now find Mr. Parker instructing Pilates at the newly-opened Y off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in Oak Bluffs. The facility offers a variety of group exercise classes six days a week through August, including Mr. Parker’s Pilates Sculpting session on Fridays from 10 to 11 am.
The Y also provides classes in yoga, breathing, zumba, and cycling, among others. The classes are free for Y members.
“As we enter into the fall season, we hope to provide more and more programs to serve the entire Island,” says membership director Nina Lombardi.
A glance into Mr. Parker’s group Pilates session last week revealed a crowded room with at least 15 members stretched on their sides, dangling one foot in the air and making tiny rotations in unison, an arm extended toward the ceiling. Mr. Parker motivates through a combination of encouragement, humor and “interesting music” (everything from Parvati to Barry White). It only takes a brief walk around the facility to learn that he’s adored by students and co-workers alike.
“I think we have a good time,” Mr. Parker says. “I got into this business to have fun. I like teaching what I know — I like caring for people.”
At the age of 44, Mr. Parker left handbags behind and went back to school, earning a degree in personal training from Marymount Manhattan College. After 20 years in gyms and exercise rooms — 15 of which he’s spent on Martha’s Vineyard — he now buzzes around the second floor of the Y, joking with members, colorful and upbeat, striving for the best posture possible.
“Without having good posture, you can never do anything in a symmetrical way, or a balanced way,” Mr. Parker, a Vineyard Haven resident, says. “What I like about Pilates is how everything starts from the center. Everything we do is about lengthening and strengthening and having flexibility in your spine.”
When Mr. Parker decided to make exercise a central focus of his life, he hadn’t been active since high school. He asked his girlfriend at the time to take his picture, but she tried to refuse on the grounds that the photo would upset him. Mr. Parker insisted, however, explaining he planned to use the picture as inspiration.
“I was inflexible — people made fun of my posture,” he confesses. “I love having a challenge.”
Mr. Parker and his colleagues now help others conquer their own challenges, which vary from aging to pregnancy. The group exercise classes field about 15 members per session. Since opening in June, the Y has signed up 1,021 membership units representing about 2,700 individuals, according to Ms. Lombardi. On a peak day (usually a Monday), as many as 450 people sign in to use the Y’s facilities.
“It’s got everything I need, and everything anyone would want in a fitness area,” Mr. Parker explains. “The staff is really friendly and nice and knowledgeable.”
The Y offers a variety of membership options. Rates vary according to age and length of membership. Special packages are also available for families. Annual memberships require a one-time joiner fee of $75 in addition to the monthly fee.
Membership includes access to the aquatics center, strength and cardiovascular conditioning center, group exercise classes, and child watch, during which the Y will take care of children between the ages of 6 months and 10 years old for up to an hour and a half. These services, coupled with the guidance of people like Mr. Parker, make the Y a unique opportunity to improve physical and emotional health.
“The Y is more than just a gym,” says Ms. Lombardi. “It’s an Island-wide community center with great benefits and programs for individuals as well as families.”
“One of the things I like to say in there,” Mr. Parker says, motioning toward the Pilates room, “is that ‘if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.'”
For more information about group exercise class schedules and membership details, please visit ymcamv.org.
Max Orenstein is a recent graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia, Penn., currently living in Edgartown.