Last week it had been inordinately rainy, so only with several days of accumulated guilt from procrastination, was I grudgingly able to head out jogging, encased in a raincoat. I slogged down Rainier through puddles, mud and pedestrians and came across a cheerful looking place with exercise machines. I stopped and found myself nearly face to face with a fellow on an exercise machine, separated only by a pane of glass. I expected his expression to be one of exhaustion, annoyance, or some variety facial communication in the macho idiom. His smile encouraged me to find out more about the place.
Rainier Health and Fitness is a most unusual gym: it’s a nonprofit enterprise; it’s strongly community-based with a relatively small staff and 45 volunteers; and its focus is the health of people who might not otherwise go to a gym or who need exercise for health-related reasons. It has a youth outreach program with camps for basketball and soccer and ties with medical clinics in the area, which refer patients in need of exercise.
When I go to a gym — with a body sculpted by lethargy and indolence — I am accustomed to encountering people with an extremely high level of musculature strutting around and insistent employees offering their services for hire to conduct private workouts. At Rainier Health and Fitness the atmosphere is quite different. Its patrons represent a slice of the neighborhood and congeniality abounds along with appreciation for the gym. It is an entirely pleasant place to go — with the possible exception of the actual exercise, which after two days had me complaining about pains from muscles that I did not know that I had. I think I let my enthusiasm for the place morph into hasty exuberance in hoisting the weights and levers. Next time I may engage the staff for advice about my approach.
It turns out that Rainier Health and Fitness originated in 2005 in Rainier Valley’s cradle of culture, Hillman City (where I live). It started out in a very small space that could fit only a few machines. Locals though welcomed the opportunity afforded by the gym and soon enrollment was about 100, which was about 95 more people than the gym’s capacity. It was started, and to some extent sustained, with money provided by Rainier Avenue Church and Urban Impact, a community-oriented nonprofit.
The next move was to a more commodious trailer on Rainier Avenue provided by Emerald City Bible Fellowship and there the gym’s patronage continued to grow. Finally in 2011 it moved next door to its present, more traditional, location on the ground floor of a multi-family residential building constructed that year.
The director, Alicia Haskins, told me that her commitment to Rainier Health and Fitness and to the health of the community it serves is born of her faith and I see in her the difference between commitment to service from faith, as opposed to zeal for profit from less laudatory origins. She is a delightful woman who sincerely cares about her community and hopes that someday a second gym can be opened in a low income neighborhood in the Greater Seattle area. She regrets the decline in attendance by Somali women who came in numbers on Ladies’ Night not too long ago. I imagine that that may be a symptom of the gentrification of the area but I hope that’s just a carryover from the holidays at the end of our calendar year and will resume some time soon.
I’m planning to sign up for one of the many classes they offer for people of all ages and levels of fitness. There’s yoga, which I tried once but couldn’t get into the position from which you begin the different poses; when I tried to lower myself to the mat I lost all hope of having that warm smile that you see on people sitting on their yoga mats and thinking beautiful thoughts. There’s also a general fitness class for an hour which would be beneficial to me, particularly if the hour includes time for chatting and a short nap. And there’s exuberant dancing . I’ve been interested in cross-training and that’s there too. Even daycare and weekend walks.