Member Profile: Rick Swanek from the Elmhurst YMCA

September 11, 2013


Who: Rick Swanek, fitness fanatic, beach body coach, marathon-running plumber and proud father of two

Member Since: 2005

Favorite Y Programs: Boot Camp, Adventure Guides with my sons

Best Things About the Y: group exercise, the people

Advice: If anybody’s looking to duplicate my results, here’s the secret: keep going. Don’t give up. There’s no magic wand, no gimmick, no potion. Just keep going. Join group fitness classes – it’s easier to give up if you feel like you’re in it alone, so get in there and be social. Build on each other’s strengths. Keep going. You’ll make it.

Shout-Out: Thanks to Laura Morgan, Rachel Baron, and all the fitness instructors at the Elmhurst Y!

What Brought Rick to the YMCA:
I simply wanted to lose weight. Back in 2005, I did lose about twenty to thirty pounds, but it didn’t stick. I didn’t really embrace the experience until I started involving myself much later.

His YMCA Story:
I didn’t really get the most out of my YMCA membership for the first few years, but finally, in January of 2011, I started involving myself. When I first joined the YMCA I was a little withdrawn from everybody. My journey began when I started extending myself to get involved on a deeper level. Instead of waiting around for people to come talk to me, I made myself go talk to them. I opened up to staff and other members instead of mostly shutting them out. Before long I’d built up a connection with trainers, instructors, fitness directors, and other Y members, and that support made it easy for me to continue extending myself.

The Y community is really unique. I think it’s because it’s a charitable organization, so it can cross social boundaries and economic lines. I’m a plumber and I’m friends with lawyers, doctors, dentists… Elmhurst is really diverse and there’s no better place to see that than at the YMCA. All this opening up, meeting new people, learning things from people I never thought I’d call friends… It all made a difference. It’s really the members and the staff that make the YMCA so great. They’re the reason I was able to do it. I’m sad it took me so long to be a part of it: everybody is welcoming, encouraging and helpful.

What I eventually had was a “cognitive identity change.” Before all of this I was kind of a sedentary guy who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, and that was how I thought about myself. I’d go on the elliptical, nobody else working out with me, and then I’d come off it, step outside and start smoking. People would look at me like I was out of my mind, and I’d ignore them. But when I started making those friends, I couldn’t do that. Letting myself be vulnerable and pushing myself to open up to allowed me to support my friends in their fitness goals, and in return, they supported mine. It built this accountability for my actions that let me build a real atmosphere of change.

I got into the Elmhurst running club, made friends and worked hard there, and I realized I was starting to think of myself differently. I didn’t want to run and smoke anymore. That’s how it happened. I really joined the Y community and started thinking of myself as a fit non-smoker, not a sedentary guy doing two packs a day, and I was able to lose 90 pounds at the YMCA.

Now, after spending years as a man who struggled to run a quarter mile, I’ve run a marathon.  I’m going to run another this October.