Cassidy McCombs: "You love every single one of them. How could you not?"

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Cassidy McCombs loves her job.  She practically shines when I ask about it.  She can talk about her work with such ease and confidence because she really knows her job, inside and out.  In a way, she has known it for half her life.  She was an Adventure Quest kid herself in 4th and 5th grade.  She recalls the program as the cool thing to do after school. A place where kids wanted to go, not just somewhere they had to pass the time.  She didn’t know it at the time, but her career path was born out of those mornings and afternoons in Adventure Quest. 

Anna, previously an Enrichment Coordinator with RAPRD, was Cassidy’s Adventure Quest Lead.  Cassidy looked to Anna and saw her future.  “She was my absolute idol, Cassidy recalls, “I remember really looking up to her.  She was so creative and so outgoing.  I really wanted to be her one day.” 

Cassidy’s relationship with Anna went beyond a child’s hero worship, growing into a fond mentorship.  “I taught a few classes for her and then taught some classes with her.  I volunteered all through middle school.”  This experience, and Anna’s guidance and encouragement, gave Cassidy the skills and love of working with kids she hopes will form the foundation of a future nursing career.  She explains she is not nervous about public speaking because she has to do it at work every day.  “You have to be outgoing, not be shy in front of the kids.”  In addition to giving her confidence, her early years with Adventure Quest also gave her direction.  “Volunteering got me more interested in working with kids,” she says.  “As a kid, I really wanted to work with animals.  Through volunteering, I knew this is what I wanted to do.  I debated becoming a kindergarten teacher.  It was either that or nursing, but nursing is what I’m called to do, I think.”

Cassidy leads Adventure Quest Campers in the Redmond 4th of July parade.

Cassidy leads Adventure Quest Campers in the Redmond 4th of July parade.

Even aside from Anna, it is clear that Cassidy doesn’t lack for strong female role models.  Her twin older sisters were Adventure Quest volunteers when she was a participant in the program, and she looks up to her mom, and shares her passion for working with kids and keeping them healthy.  When she was in elementary school, her mom worked as a lunch lady and went back to college to finish her degree.  Cassidy notes with admiration that she is now the Assistant Director of Nutrition Services for the whole school district. 

Some of her mom’s interests seem to have unconsciously worn off on Cassidy.  When asked what she is looking forward to about Camp Adventure Quest this summer, she raves about staff plans to intensify their focus on nutrition and healthy eating habits through Commit to Health, an initiative of the National Recreation and Park Association.  “I’m really excited about the healthy food thing we’re going to bring into Camp this year.  We’ll be cooking food with the kids and then incorporating our own snacks that they make into our snack bin.  Healthy food choices are essential to keeping the Camp Adventure Quest kids active through the long summer days.  “We constantly are taking walks.  They can grab a protein bar or a bag of trail mix that they made, in little bags.  That’s way better than a Rice Krispies treat.”

This year, Cassidy got her wish, in a way, to be like Anna, when she took over the Vern Patrick program as Lead.  When I ask what is it about RAPRD that made her want to come back to this job for a second year, rather than try out another field, Cassidy is adamant.  “I love all the people I work with.  I love all the kids.  I feel really appreciated in what I do.  I feel like I’m valued…Like I’m helpful.  I make a difference in all these kids’ lives.”  She can’t help grinning when she thinks about her kids.  “Some of them I have from 7 in the morning to 6:30 in the evening.  You learn everything about them, all their little quirks, and you love every single one of them.  How could you not?”  Cassidy plans to continue working at Adventure Quest when she begins her studies at COCC after graduation. “It’s a split shift, so it’s perfect,” she says.  “I can take day classes or night classes.” 

Although Camp Adventure Quest is a busy program, focused on keeping kids active and outside, what Cassidy enjoys the most are the quieter moments with the kids.  “I look forward to the time when we come inside together and talk and hang out, color with them, just touch base.”  This time together forms deep trust relationships, and, for many of the kids, their Adventure Quest Lead is a person they can bring their darkest problems to.  This responsibility weighs on Cassidy.  She says she got through a tough weekend recently after one of her kids shared some personal thoughts and asked for help.  “That was really hard for me,” she says.  She was able to talk it through with the child, and helped them connect with the resourcesthey needed through the schools.  They came back to her this week to talk again, so she gained the reassurance that she has the skills and instincts to help kids feel loved and important.

As she reflects on her years in RAPRD programs, as a participant, a volunteer, and now as a staff member, she considers how it shaped her childhood, and also her skills as an adult.  “I took swim lessons, I did soccer, I did Missoula Children’s Theater, a hip hop dance class.  My brother and sisters also did the theater program and my sisters both did soccer all the way through.  My brother played racquetball and took a LEGO robotics class.  It [RAPRD] got me outside more than sitting around at my house all day instead of doing nothing.  I was moving, talking to people, and building relationships.”  Now, as she looks forward to graduating and working toward her future goals, she explains how Adventure Quest in particular has impacted her life.  She largely credits her time volunteering with Anna as helping shape the confident, organized, patient person she has become.  “Anna really helped me, pushing me to be a leader,” she recognizes.  “I feel like I’ve been able to connect with kids and with parents…Being an adult, learning how to communicate with an adult on a professional level without feeling like a kid.  This job has really helped me become an adult.”

“Parks and rec has definitely helped make me the person I am today,” Cassidy says.  “They helped me grow, and have been there every step of the way, from swimming lessons all the way through working for this amazing organization and I love it.”

When the game is staff vs. kids, losing comes with hairy consequences.

When the game is staff vs. kids, losing comes with hairy consequences.

RAPRD provides scholarships to help kids afford to participate in our programs.  Adventure Quest and Camp Adventure Quest account for 58% of our scholarships.  You can help send a child to Camp this summer by making a donation at Cascade Swim Center or the Activity Center behind Bi-Mart on Canal.  You can donate by phone (541-548-7275) or online using the link below.

 

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Ken Streater: Understanding the Value of Fun

Ken Streater is doing at least 20 things.  He is always doing at least 20 things.  He’s a dad to three kids.  He is working in commercial real estate (and trying to build fun and compassion into the industry).  He is coaching two soccer teams, bringing his total number of youth sports teams coached to THIRTY.  He is writing another book. He rafts.  He runs a website and community innovation program.  He gives TED Talks and organizes non-profit fundraisers. 

Streater is also on his fourth professional career.  As an international adventure travel and river rafting guide, he shepherded groups through dozens of countries and safely home.  When a back injury confined him to dry land, he went into education.  Originally from California, Ken got his teaching credentials and moved to work in Seldovia, Alaska, a little town of fewer than 300.  His teaching career afforded him the time and security to finally get back surgery and Ken started to get the itch to get back into rafting.  Following his dream to own his own rafting company, Ken and his wife drove all around the Northwest, in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, searching for a place to call home.

“We could have lived anywhere in the Northwest,” Streater recalls, but “the friendliest place was Central Oregon.”  Settling first in Sisters in 1997, he describes, “the folks at the Albertsons were friendly, the server at Papandrea’s Pizza would chat with us.”  One night, Streater was flying into the Redmond Airport late at night after a long work trip.  He had stored his vehicle out in Terrebonne and hadn’t figured out how he was going to get from Redmond out to pick it up when they landed.  Chatting with the lady next to him who lived in Bend, he happened to mention his dilemma and she offered to drive him out to Terrebonne, around midnight in a snow storm, to drop him off before heading home herself. 

Although the offer surprised him at the time, Streater has come to expect this kind, community spirit from Central Oregonians.  “The people who have lived here for awhile have that Community First perspective,” Streater observes.  “And then new people choose to live here because of that.  Then, when they are here for five or ten years, they also fold into that feeling.”  In his international rafting career, Streater says, “I’ve been to 50 countries, and seen every type of community imaginable.  There is no better place to raise a family than Redmond, Oregon.”

Streater and his wife started their family in Redmond in 2003, with the birth of their son, now a teenager.  His 10-year-old daughters are twins, and between basketball, spring and fall soccer, and football, Streater guesses he has coached around 30 seasons of his kids’ sports.  He came to RAPRD the way many people do, bringing his kids in to Cascade Swim Center for swimming lessons when they were little, then was drawn into youth sports.  “Our very first sport was soccer,” Streater recalls.  “My son had a super focused, super nice, high energy coach that year and I helped out a bit on that team.”  Streater acted as assistant coach for one more year before striking out on his own as one of the hundreds of volunteer coaches that make RAPRD’s sports teams possible. 

Streater had coached a little in Alaska when he was a teacher, but hadn’t immersed himself in it so he didn’t have a deep background of experience to draw on in those early years.  “RAPRD makes it easy to become a coach,” he notes, “that really encourages the participation of community members.  I had good mentors and good teaching and guiding skills – a lot of the same psychology applies on the soccer field.  It worked in the raft and it has worked on the basketball court and the soccer field.  You celebrate successes.  It is super important to just be goofy,” he says, describing using Michael Jackson’s moonwalk as a break from shooting drills. 

The freedom to be silly is what keeps Streater and his kids coming back to RAPRD programs.  What makes RAPRD youth sports unique, he says, is “So simple: The understanding of the value of fun.   And honestly, how well organized it is.  You run thousands of people a week through these kinds of things.  Kids are encouraged to play and to learn while they’re having fun.”  He cites children’s sports research that reports a high number of kids stop playing sports around 13 because they’re not having fun anymore.  But Streater says that RAPRD’s programs not only emphasize fun, they develop a love of sports that encourages kids to stay active long into adulthood. 

Streater, an occasional lap swimmer himself, appreciates the role of RAPRD programs in providing opportunities for everyone.  “Another thing RAPRD does that appeals to me is trying to create a lifetime association with recreation for community members.  There’s a palette of offerings for all age groups and different types of interests.”  Providing opportunities to community members of all ages, Streater observes, bridges generational divides and forges stronger bonds between people from all walks of life.  “RAPRD gives 4 year old kids and 40 year old fathers and 80 year old senior citizens the opportunity to find something fun to do in a trusting community.  If you have that operating in your town, your town will flourish.  When you come in to swim at lunch time, you are a part of a friendly community that recognizes you.  That creates trust.”

Streater is now a partner in a commercial real estate company.  As a parent volunteer coach and a local business owner, he stands at the nexus of two groups of community support that make it possible for RAPRD to offer affordable, quality youth sports programming.  Business owners are drawn to support RAPRD programs, Streater thinks, for a couple of interrelated reasons.  “Most business owners understand the value of teams – to start with.  They understand the value of a culture that is collaborative, in this day and age especially.”  The skills kids learn playing sports will help them as adults in the working world when they need to communicate and create together, when they need to show leadership and when their leaders turn to them for support.  But it is something more than just instilling positive skills and values that draws local businesses to support RAPRD, Streater says.  “Ethical business owners feel an obligation to give back to the community,” he describes, “which goes back to the RAPRD mission to lift people through recreation.”

As his kids get older and coaching no longer demands so much of his time, Streater already has a plan for how he will continue to give back to the community: launching a national movement to restore and recognize good in the world. “We just started a new media organization to reinvent media by focusing on all that is good in the world.”  Streater’s organization, Hooray Café aims to turn the national media narrative of fear and division on its head and instead emphasize acts of kindness and trust. His Goodness’ Sake Project is a program that salutes those who give to their community, provides tools for encouraging spur-of-the-moment generosity and features a platform similar to classified ads listings to help community members exchange small good deeds. 

When asked why, with his business and philanthropy taking up so much of his time, he has chosen to volunteer with RAPRD all these years, Streater doesn’t hesitate: “More than anything else, I fully believe in the RAPRD mission from top to bottom, side to side.  Mostly, I like for kids to believe they can do whatever they set their mind to do.  To create an environment where they walk off the practice field or the court and know that their best mattered.  And they can take that to anything in their life.”

Ginny Weeber: Swim Team Mom, Zumba Diva, Philanthropist

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Ginny Weeber grew up swimming.  Her family lived near a lake in New Jersey and they did a lot of swimming and playing in the water.  Her husband Bob was also drawn to the water.  He lifeguarded and taught swim lessons in high school and college, and even learned to SCUBA dive.  They lived in a little townhouse opposite where Cascade Swim Center is now and watched it being built in 1980.  They were thrilled with the new facility, but had no idea how it would become the center of their lives for years to come.

Like their parents, the Weeber’s two kids learned to swim from early childhood.  Ginny took both kids to waterbabies and then started them in swimming lessons.  “Matt breezed through them,” she recalls, “but Mandy would see us and scream when they asked her to float on her back, so they finally asked us to leave the pool during her lessons.”  Despite this inauspicious start, both kids flourished on swim team.  When considering all that Cascade Aquatic Club (CAC, now RACE) brought into her family’s lives, Ginny takes a walk down memory lane, pulling out old photo albums from the 1980s.

Ginny with Waterbaby Matt

Ginny with Waterbaby Matt

As a young mom, she remembers, “Going to the pool got me into visiting with other families, and when the kids were on swim team, those families hung out together all the time.  We’ve made some lifelong friends from having the kids all together on swim team.”  Bob got very involved, officiating swim meets for nearly a decade.  It was a big time commitment, but in a way, CAC kids were all raised collectively as practically siblings, by a network of parents who could tag in and out to help get this gaggle of swimmers over the pass or to far flung campgrounds.  “If you couldn’t get away that weekend, you’d send your kid with somebody else to a meet.  Swim parents are famous for taking on 3 or 4 kids that aren’t their own.  Then, the next time you might have to take on 3 or 4 kids that aren’t your own,” Ginny explains.  “Potlucks and campouts, that was our life.  It was wonderful.”

Reflecting on what swim team brought to her kids’ lives, Ginny observes, “It taught them how to set goals, how to be organized.  You had to take responsibility, like getting yourself to practices.  They learned a lot of important life lessons from that.”  She notes that her youngest went through the amazing and sometimes frustrating experience of being on the first Redmond water polo team.  At first, the high school didn’t think they could support a new sport, so RAPRD stepped up, donating pool time after hours for the kids to practice, and hosting weekend tournaments and clinics so they could learn from other clubs and grow the sport in Central Oregon.  The RAPRD lifeguard supervisor volunteered as the men’s and women’s coach.  Within a few years, the popularity of the rough and tumble sport had exploded.  “Park and Rec supported it from the very beginning,” Ginny remembers, and the kids learned not only a new sport, but also how to persevere and advocate for themselves.

The Weeber kids consult before Mandy's race.

The Weeber kids consult before Mandy's race.

After her kids graduated from high school, the pool faded from their lives for many years but Ginny recently decided to make RAPRD a central focus again.  “I really love dancing and Bob and I started taking salsa lessons for a Chamber of Commerce event back in 2009.  After the event was over and I was like ‘Oh, so-and-so is playing in Bend, let’s go dancing!’ and he looked at me like I had two heads.  I knew if I wanted to keep dancing, I was going to have to find a way to do it myself.”  Ginny explains, “Back in 2009, Zumba wasn’t popular yet, hardly anybody was certified, I was one of the first handful.”  RAPRD again became the background for a new chapter in Ginny’s life.  “The Activity Center really took a chance on me to teach a new Zumba Gold class in 2010,” she recalls, “the first Gold class in Central Oregon.  I have absolutely loved working there. Julane and Mike [her Activity Center supervisors] have always had my back and have always been very supportive of the Zumba program, even from before it was popular.”

Early Zumba class at Jackson St. Activity Center 

Early Zumba class at Jackson St. Activity Center 

Ginny has always taught Zumba Gold, a lower-impact version of the popular workout that mixes Latin and reggaeton dance steps.  “Zumba gives you new routines, but they also give you options, like you can use this step or that step, or you can introduce your own steps.  I do a lot of adaptations for Zumba Gold.  No jumping, low-impact movements; some people get dizzy turning, so they don’t do as much of that.”  Instructors offer adaptations for bad hips, bad knees, and other limitations, to make the class challenging for everyone, but not intimidating.  “It is really hard when you’ve got a full class of people and some are really fit and want to do something more intense and others have never exercised before. Veteran participants are really good about bringing new people in and mentoring, like ‘Yeah, don’t worry about it, you’ll get it.’” 

That emphasis on fun and personal fulfillment without judgment is something she has always liked about RAPRD.  “It has never been about who has the sexiest top or slinkiest bottoms, we just have fun and help each other out.  I liked Park and Rec because there’s not all this branding and competition.  The fun and the dancing are what drew me to it.”

Zumba Halloween!

Zumba Halloween!

She hopes to continue to expand her Zumba horizons after she retires this year.  “Zumba is kind of a cross between an art and a science.  Each teacher has their own style or flare or area of expertise.  It’s so nice because as a Zumba community we share a lot.”  As participation has boomed in the past few years, teachers have had less time to collaborate and Ginny looks forward to getting back to learning from other instructors as a participant. 

She is also getting involved in philanthropic work within the Central Oregon Parkinson’s community.  “Mom passed away from complications from Parkinson’s Disease two years ago and I felt like I should have been more aware of how Parkinson’s affects people.”  She has been attending meetings of the Central Oregon Parkinson’s Council and Dance for PD in Bend, and is co-founding a support group in Redmond.  She is coordinating a fundraiser and Zumba demo for Dance for PD in April, which teaches dance to people with Parkinson’s.

 

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Looking back on the role of RAPRD in her life, Ginny has the broad view of having been a patron throughout the years.  “The pool is a community resource that has been here since 1980.  The Activity Center offers classes at an affordable price that people can try without a huge membership commitment and the classes are staffed by professional, trained people.  It’s an incredible bargain for people in Redmond.  A place to grow and learn.  You don’t have to be rich to enjoy something that other people take for granted because it’s all accessible to the public.”

Looking to the future, she observes, “A lot of Baby Boomers are getting older.  Transportation and getting out gets harder.”  Ginny believes that, to combat isolation and improve the fitness of Redmond’s increasing senior population, RAPRD will become even more important to the community.  If the fitness and wellness programming of the pool and the Activity Center could be brought under one roof, she says, “I think we’d be more likely to go and take advantage of all of the programs.  A new facility would be amazing.  You could bring in experts to train students and teachers how to teach classes, to share training and expertise.  We could offer more senior classes like low-impact exercise and pickleball.” If fitness classes were co-located with the pool, “I might try aqua aerobics again,” she considers, “Liquid Combat sounds intriguing.”

Daniel Novasio: “I dance in my heart. That’s what I do. It’s my thing.”

Daniel Novasio is a bit a of a celebrity around the RAPRD Activity Center.  Before his dance fitness classes, he takes the time to warm up, first in the lobby of the Activity Center, and then, once the instructor arrives to unlock the door, inside the gym.  While the rest of the participants stand around in groups of two or three, stretching and chatting, Daniel is 100% into his music.  He has his headphones on and is leading a one-man concert, lip synching along with the music and loosening up for his energetic MIXxedFit® class by doing the hip hop moves in time to country music – Florida Georgia Line today. “Music is my thing,” he says more than once during our interview.  “Country, yeah I love country a lot.”

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He humors me and poses for a couple joking photos with his instructor before class, but doesn’t take off those headphones.  He is focused, serious… or so I think, until I try to take a candid shot of him working a rhythmic swagger across the gym floor and he turns straight to the camera and strikes a hip hop pose with a devious grin at the exact moment I snap the picture.  He looks like he’s warming up in his own world – and also silently trying out on stage on The Voice.  But Daniel has a sixth sense for when he’s in the frame and can find the camera wherever it is in the room to mug a bit or give a quick, confident (cheeky) chin nod just when I think he’s not looking.

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He was not always this confident, this free.  When he moved to Redmond two years ago and started coming to RAPRD to work out, he says “I was nervous.  Didn’t know anyone.”  He had wrestled in high school, in Beaverton, so strength training was nothing new, but joining a dance class full of outgoing, high-energy women was a little intimidating at first.  Still, Daniel was curious.  “I did karaoke all the time in Beaverton,” he explains, so the music drew him in, and once he started, “I was so happy.  I have this energy.”  His first class was MIXxedFit® with Heather, a hip-hop influenced dance-based fitness class.  It was perfect.  “I dance in my heart,” Daniel says, “That’s what I do.   It’s my thing.” 

It is definitely his thing.  Daniel has progressed to where he leads the class on some songs and when the group circles up, Daniel takes the floor at the center to perform a solo that makes it clear, he not only loves to dance, this guy has serious skills.  He has an intuitive feel for the music, but his moves are also physically rigorous, and the energy with which he can bust out a routine demonstrates the strength and flexibility he has gained from taking fitness classes nearly every day since he moved to town.  In addition to Heather’s MIXxedFit® class, he also takes Zumba and Balance & Core classes.   Daniel has carved out a place for himself at RAPRD, and in Redmond. “Beaverton is my old home,” he says.  “Redmond is my future.” 

As the second song wraps up and the class re-forms in neat lines – with Daniel again at the front – he’s grinning and has barely broken a sweat.  He obviously loves being able to do something he’s great at, and that others recognize him for, but what he seems to value most about his classes at RAPRD is the independence he feels here.  Daniel lives with his parents, a big family and his llasa apso, and works for his mom helping ride, clean up after, and care for the horses that the family boards.  But RAPRD is Daniel’s space alone.  He gets dropped off and his parents rarely come inside.  “Dad has always taken care of me,” he says, “but now I take care of me.”

He values having his workout time as his own time, whether he spends it in a group class, or lifting weights.  Freedom is very important to Daniel.  “I can go slow, or I can go fast, do my thing.  Sometimes I get more energy and work out really hard.”  He uses the weight room at the Activity Center sparingly now that he has joined so many classes, but he emphasizes, “I work out independently myself.  I do weights at home.”  When describing his favorite aspects of his classes at RAPRD, he says “New friends.  I dance and have a good time,” but even in the group class context, Daniel expresses his independence and creativity.  “I take the moves and I make my own moves,” he says.

Daniel adds in a dab of his own

Daniel adds in a dab of his own

Daniel feels music deeply, as an ancient, inner part of who he is, even going back to his childhood.  “Dad and I used to sing the ABCs together when I was a little boy,” he says.  “Now I have the words to every song in my head.  Like 200 songs.”  He carries music with him not only in his hand, on his phone, and in his head as an encyclopedia of lyrics, but also deep inside.  “I listen to a song and I can feel it in my heart.  I feel that jam in me,” he says.  Daniel doesn’t only live out his love of music warming up in the Activity Center, or trying out new moves at the front of his dance fitness classes.  “I dance at home by myself.  I dance while I’m sleeping.”

When I ask him what he wants people to know about him, Daniel hits the highlights (and those who know him nod along at every point), “I’m really humble.  I’m a really funny guy.  I’m smart and I make people laugh,” he says.  “I can dance.”  He really can.

Click here for a video of Daniel's solo.

Rachell Ortiz: Aqua Aerobics Addict!

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Redmond freaked Rachell Ortiz out at first.  In their first weeks in town, she and her husband were looking for non-dairy ice cream at the grocery store and a complete stranger offered to show them where it was.  Terrified, they put their heads together for a hushed conference.  “What do you think he wants?”

Turns out, he just wanted to show them where the ice cream was.  Moving back here from Houston, with a population of around 4 million in the city and another 4 million in the surrounding areas, settling Redmond required a big shift in thinking.  Comparatively, Rachell beams, Redmond is “super super slow paced, comfortable, inviting.”  She has felt welcomed from the beginning.  “Everybody is so sweet.”  And, the urban transplant adds, “A traffic jam here is like 5 cars, which is pretty awesome.”

In between renovating her house and walking her bulldogs every day, Rachell was also looking for an activity she and her aunt could do together, as a way to get her aunt – who has limited mobility – out of the house.  Rachell also had her own motivation.  A year ago, she set a goal to go skydiving; a goal she would have to lose 155 pounds to achieve.

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She found the Aqua Aerobics classes at Cascade Swim Center and set a date to meet her aunt to work out together.  Her aunt never showed.  Rachell set another date.  Her aunt stood her up again.  But by then, Rachell was hooked.  “I love the water, I always have.  My mom used to say I was a water baby.  If I’m near water, I’m in water,” she says.  “It’s an escape here.  You get in the water and it’s fun and you don’t even realize you’re exercising so much until you look at your pedometer or your clothes are falling off.”

Rachell has started a competition with her husband, who lives in St. Louis for work.  He gets in his steps on the stairs in his office building and takes yoga.  Rachell takes circuit training and water yoga classes with Kat; Addie’s strength class, which alternates between an arms and legs workout in the shallow end and an abs and legs workout in the deep end.  With Robin, Rachell has taken Aqua Zumba®, and is thinking of starting Aqua Gold, a low-impact workout for those with limited mobility in the hour after her regular classes.  “I feel empowered, she says of her classes.  “Strong as a boulder.  Confident.  On top of the world.  Nothing could bring me down.”  Rachell’s clear favorite is aqua kickboxing, part of a class called AquaCombat starting in the next session.  “I could kick somebody right in the forehead,” she grins. 

Competing against each other to get their steps in not only keeps Rachell and her husband healthy, but also connects them at the Fitbits while they have to live apart.  A year later, she is still renovating her house.  She is still walking her dogs.  She still wants to go skydiving.  She and her husband are planning to go ziplining in Peru.  And she has lost 100 pounds.

“You get flexible after awhile,” she laughs, “after it stops hurting! You find muscles you didn’t know you had,” she says.  I was pushing on my waist and asking my doctor, what is this that I feel here, hard on each side?  And my doctor was like “yeah, those are your abs, your obliques, and I was like shut up! I’ve heard of those!”  In addition to the joy of finding new muscles and building an inner strength and confidence that extends into other areas of her life (she is thinking of starting a family business), Rachell revels in the sense of camaraderie and community she finds among her fellow Aqua Aerobics regulars.

“I think it’s a lot of fun.  You get to know a lot of great people.  You don’t know everybody’s names but when someone doesn’t show for a few days, we start asking about that person, ‘have you seen so-and-so? How are they?’”  Rachell has been able to quickly build ties of friendship in her new city that has drifted outside of the pool.  “Some of us, we’ve had coffee, or maybe go for breakfast afterwards.  One of the ladies saw how much weight I’d lost so fast and gave me two Glad bags full of clothes.”  It is not just the practical benefits of friendship that keeps her coming back.  “I feel very invited.  I feel like I’m part of something pretty awesome.”  For some, that’s a feeling worth traveling in from out of town for.  “I’ve talked to a lot of people who actually come to this pool because the people are nicer and the equipment is provided and they just prefer these classes.”

Key to Rachell’s experience has been the lack of judgment about her body or her ability.  Going around in a swimsuit in front of strangers can make a person feel very vulnerable, but Rachell says the classes make her feel tough and accepted.  “There’s no judgment, everyone helps each other.  If you’re not a great swimmer, the teachers make things really easy for you.  They have the belts, the weights, the noodles, and everybody is really conscientious of limitations.  They will say ‘If you have limited mobility, try it this way,’ or ‘don’t push yourself too far,’ and they offer adaptations.” 

Despite the big change from a Texas urban environment to the more relaxed pace in Redmond, and even being able to see her husband only every couple months because of his job, Rachell seems to have found a feeling of home at Cascade Swim Center.  And a deep physical and emotional strength.  “Everybody in there…none of us are swimsuit models.  None of us are Esther Williams [the 1940s competitive swimmer and star of Hollywood “aquamusicals”].  We are not sleek and sexy.  We’re not out there to be sleek and sexy.  We’re there to go all out.  We are there to kick a--.”

 

black light by David DeHetre

black light by David DeHetre

Denise Maich: From Recreation Swimmer to Head Coach

Denise Maich is a familiar face around Cascade Swim Center; as much a fixture of the place as the maroon and gold lanelines the guards roll out each day, or the wooden beams backstrokers use as a guide to stay on course.  She has been the Redmond High School swimming coach for the past six years, the high school water polo coach for three years, and also works as the Assistant Aquatic Director.  But many may not know that her Redmond pedigree stretches back through generations of swim team and lessons kids to the days in the early 90s when her family first moved to Redmond from California. 

In her first years in Oregon, while her parents worked, Denise and her younger brothers went to the Boys and Girls club in the summer, where they did activities in Redmond’s parks during the day and came to the pool for recreation swim in the afternoons.  From the time Denise was 11, they all swam for Cascade Aquatic Club, the Redmond club swim team at the time, year-round.  These experiences shaped her childhood.  “I’m still friends with people who were my friends in swimming, she says.  She remembers the emphasis these programs placed on “moving, talking to people, building relationships;” values Denise carried into adulthood. 

“Doing that kind of stuff made me feel like I need to give back to the community,” she remembers.  This was a lesson Denise has taken to heart, and she has been drawn to teaching kids to swim and be active and social throughout her career. When she was 17, Denise joined the Cascade Swim Center staff as a lifeguard and, later, as a lifeguard supervisor.  Her experience as a guard and a swim instructor led to lifeguarding in college.  Later, once she had declared her business major, she took an internship with a national-caliber water park operated by SeaWorld, and developed a swim lesson program where none had been offered before.  “Teaching kids how to swim,” she observes, “you’re teaching them life lessons and life skills.  Keeping them safe.”

Business administration degree from Rocky Mountain in hand, Denise decided to move back to Redmond.  Her husband, also an RHS grad, still has family in the area too and they were drawn back to their roots.  Denise returned to Cascade Swim Center as a lifeguard supervisor in 2011 and moved up quickly, volunteer coaching RHS swimming at first, then taking over as head coach the next year, and as water polo coach a couple years later.  She was promoted to Assistant Aquatic Director in December 2015.

So what drew her back to her old stomping grounds after she’d traveled around the country for college and work?  “It’s about enjoyment.  The people, and changing kids’ lives.  And I really wanted to start coaching again.  It was something I really enjoyed a lot.”  That sense of fitting back into place marks Denise’s overall view of her job with RAPRD.  What makes Redmond Park and Rec unique, she says, is that “we provide a huge range of programs for different age levels that are affordable to the public,” she says.  “We offer something everyone can afford that gets kids out of the house and teaches them life skills.”

The part of her job she likes the most, though, is that feeling of belonging, of community.  “There are a lot of people who come to the pool today who came when I first started working here in high school.  They have been swimming here forever and still remember your name.  It is nice to see people who you’ve seen every day.”  Denise also likes to see the RAPRD legacy continue through the generations.  “One of my high school swim team kids, when she was 3 or 4, I taught her swim lessons.  I got her to go off the high dive for the first time and she did a belly flop and never wanted to do it again.  Now I have her on my high school team and see her make it to state every single year.  It’s awesome to see that progression.  It is kind of cool to see the kids you teach when they’re little, to see them as adults, and they’re still swimming even now.”

Denise has high hopes for her future with RAPRD and her role in the community.  “I did the Leadership Redmond program through the city and one day I hope to join a board or Redmond committee and help be a part of something.  I would love to see the aquatic programs grow stronger in Redmond.  And maybe in the future a new facility so we can provide new options to the public.” 

Later, when reflecting on what the longer term might look like, she gets shy. “I want to do what Mr. Howard did,” she whispers, referring to a previous Redmond High School and club swimming coach, “coach for a really good chunk of time.”  When pressed, she says more concretely, “Yeah, I want to keep doing it forever.  I want to be one of those old ladies out there,” she says nodding to the deck she has walked since childhood and now as a coach, “still going.”