August 01, 2017
As of this year, it will be over nine years that I have spent as a member of the Leaning Tower YMCA. Many people who have never heard of the YMCA believe that it’s simply a gym, but the Y is so much more to me. It’s a place that has changed my life for the better by giving me a place to workout and spend time with my family. Furthermore, I have had the opportunity to give back to the Y by taking a job at the Membership Desk and make others feel as welcome as I have always felt. The journey that I have taken to get to where I am today was not easy, but the Leaning Tower Y was there for me every single step of the way.
Nine years ago, I weighed over 260 pounds and had a great deal of difficulty talking to other people. I couldn't even fit into any nice clothes, which led me to stay home whenever there was a dance or a social event at school. I dreaded going to the doctor's office because they would tell me how unhealthy I was, which worried my mom and dad very much.
One morning in August 2009, my father sat down with me in the living room couch downstairs. He told me that he had looked at the Leaning Tower YMCA and wanted me to work out with him there. When I tried to argue, he stopped me. "Mark, this is non-negotiable," he said. I was so scared of making my parents more upset that I agreed to go.
For the first couple of weeks into September, the new workout regime that my parents created for me was absolutely brutal. My dad first had me lift weights with him downstairs. He would coach me on my form and technique, and would often step in to help me if I wasn't doing it properly. Once we were finished, he would take me upstairs to the fitness center to workout for another half-hour on the elliptical.
As much as it exhausted me, I began to notice a few small changes here and there. First, my clothes were beginning to get baggy, and then the other kids at school were complimenting me on my new appearance. The biggest surprise came when I tried on my cap and gown for my high school graduation. I had ordered a double extra-large sized cap and gown, but when I placed the robe on it was far too loose for me to wear. This validated the new-found feeling of confidence that I had begun to experience since I joined the Leaning Tower Y.
For the next eight years, from high school to college and beyond, I would drag my parents with me to work out at the Y until I began to come by myself. In March of 2017, l decided to take a job at the Leaning Tower Y. On the recommendation of Josh Askew, the Membership Experience Director at the time, I applied for a position at the Front Desk. On April 26, 2017, I started my first day at the Membership Desk and began to take on different tasks such as answering the phone and checking people in. Eventually I started giving people tours and doing transactions on the computer, things which I still perform to this day.
Even after all of these years, I am still grateful to the Leaning Tower Y for changing my life. Not only has it given my family and me a place to work out in the morning, but it’s helped me to establish a career path. While I do not share my weight loss story with many people, those who know me find it difficult to imagine what I looked like before I joined the Y. I can proudly say that I am a member of the Leaning Tower YMCA, and will continue to support the organization as both a member and an employee.
Written by Mark Finnegan, long-time member and Membership Desk staff at the Leaning Tower YMCA.