If You Can’t Beat Them …

I’m often asked how I got so interested in fitness and wellness. The answer is simple: My wife suggested it!

While working in the field of education and anticipating becoming a superintendent someday, I noticed an advertisement in the local newspaper seeking an executive director of the local YMCA. I already was using this YMCA as the starting point for my daily morning run with friends. I would return to the Y in the afternoon or evening to play racquetball. I was spending much time trying to improve my health and wellness after many years of not taking care of my body. My wife suggested I consider getting paid for the time I spent at the YMCA and encouraged me to apply.

The YMCA organization promotes strong minds, bodies and spirits. When my daughter was born, I vowed to stop smoking and get myself back into shape. I started running and quickly became immersed in fun runs and some serious road races. The YMCA was a venue that helped me connect with others who had developed similar passions.

I also knew the YMCA was similar in structure to a local school district. I felt that being a successful executive director might be a good indicator of how I would serve as a superintendent. After all, the executive director of the YMCA had to manage a budget; be knowledgeable of maintenance and operating systems; manage large numbers of personnel; enjoy working with many constituencies (members, town, social service agencies, state agencies, etc.); be strategic in making decisions; and be sensitive to the needs of children (a primary focus of YMCAs).

The YMCA organization required a multitude of training and professional development that reinforced the skills needed to be a successful executive director.

These professional demands allowed me to hone my skills as a leader and a manager. I have carried most of these lessons into my 12 years as a superintendent. Rather than taking care of my members, I now attend to the needs and desires of our students, our families and our communities.

Wellness has been firmly fixed in my daily routine. Since 1976, when I started my day with physical activity, my racquetball and running days have slipped away from me. However, I still walk 2-3 miles; swim a quarter-mile to a half-mile; bicycle 10-20 miles; or kayak for an hour. These activities often serve as my thinking time, and I wouldn’t consider skipping this important activity. I am able to start my busy schedule with a clear head, recharged and ready for the rigors of the day. I’ve found my circle of friends have similar interests and find this time critically important as part of their routines as well.

I am amazed at the statistics that show the low percentage (I believe the statistic is less than 18 percent) of the population who get 30 minutes of physical activity three to five times per week. I am dumbfounded at how few people over the age of 50 focus on their wellness and fitness. Clearly, this was a strategy that was far easier to join than to fight.

— Rich Abramson