Shaping up

The YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard reopens to the public.

Leila McCarter was not alone. Joyous reunions amid social distancing and constant cleaning marked the first phase of reopening of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard to the public after a six-month COVID-driven closure.

The Y’s respect for the deadly potential of COVID-19 was apparent everywhere, as safety precautions appeared to be the new normal. In the pool, the reception area, upstairs in the Wellness Center (a.k.a. the gym), much has been reconfigured. The cafe — once the beating heart of the Y, the place where Islanders gathered to visit with friends, the spot where kids did their homework, where all found free internet access and enjoyed Albert Latanzzi–inspired food — is closed for the moment, its tables and chairs tucked away from the temptation to sit in groups to chat, as in pre-COVID days. A wise move, it would appear: The CDC reported recently that restaurant diners were found to be twice as likely to contact COVID-19.

“This return to semi-normalcy is like breathing fresh air for the first time in months,” McCarter said upon returning to the YMCA on opening day.

Pool open

The Y Cafe may be dormant for the moment, but the rest of the facility is hopping, quite literally. Glance through the lobby windows to the pool, and you will see the exercise component of the Y is as vibrant as ever. The first water aerobics class on opening day filled the entire pool with 15 women socially distanced over all seven lap lanes; in normal times such classes could fit twice that number of people in half as many lanes. Despite the social spacing restrictions, spirits soared. High-fives were flashed and greetings shouted, as participants bobbed and leaped under the watchful eye of the instructor, longtime Y swim coach and international triathloner Jen Passafiume.

Lap-swimming reservations are now made online or through the front desk. Drop-ins will be accommodated on a space-available basis. And bring your own equipment — towels, water bottles, bathing caps, and workout gear. No more shared or community equipment in this age of a pandemic.

The Wellness Center, a.k.a. the gym

Longtime gym user Liz Cornell paid tribute to her faith in the Y’s safety precautions by being among the first to show up on opening day to whale away on various cardio machines, as has been her habit for years. The widow of iconic Island artist William Blakesley, Liz has for years ridden VTA buses from her Oak Bluffs home to the Y each day. Well into the at-risk age when it comes to catching COVID, Liz views the overcrowded VTA buses as unsafe, and now depends on rides from friends. But she does feel safe at the Y. Who wouldn’t? Tall Plexiglas walls separate exercise stations. A handwashing sink is available, and machines (many of them new since the pandemic closure) are cleaned twice after each use, once by the user and subsequently by staff.

The second-floor gym is full of shiny, new, top-of-the-line machines, including bikes — both upright and recumbent — stair climbers,ellipticals, and a bunch of stuff way too sophisticated for this reporter to properly name; but do not fear, for a Y trainer floats the floor to answer questions and provide instruction. As further reminder that we are still deep in a serious pandemic, much equipment one used to see has been put away for the duration; bring your own water bottle and refill — that nice new filtered-water fountain is off-limits. Also missing in action are bits of equipment too challenging to clean regularly, like the Trideer exercise balls and bamboo poles, which have been tucked away to await healthier days.

Group exercise classes

Group exercise classes started on opening day, with 28 classes scheduled outside under the pavilion, including the ever-popular Steam X, given alternating mornings by Asil Cash and Amy Crawford. Stephanie Mashek’s Silver Yoga is back on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Spin classes started the week of Sept. 27, according to this new Y announcement: “We’ll be holding six spin classes a week — Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday mornings! Evening classes are available Monday and Tuesday nights — sign-up is requested ahead of time, either through the front desk or the website. All classes will be held outside under the pavilion, and though currently we’re maxing the class capacity at six, we are able to expand as interest grows.”

Virtual Y to endure

The robust Y virtual programming was such an overwhelming success during the months the Y building was closed that it will continue.

“Over 500 individuals from all over the country participated each week in the Y’s free virtual programming while the Y was closed,” according to membership coordinator Lindsay Webster. “Over 50 virtual classes will continue to be offered. Program info, meeting IDs, and passwords are available by checking the YMCA MV website. A virtual membership will be available at some point in October. We welcome all to enjoy our virtual classes free of charge until then.”

To stay up to date on all things Y of Martha’s Vineyard, stay in touch with Lindsay Webster via her (at least weekly) Letters from Lindsay at