Staff Spotlight: Debbie Gala & Lauren Horney

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by Kaetlin Zink & Rachel Mayan

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It’s not often you get the opportunity to work with your mom. Now, whether that would be a welcome workplace dynamic depends on the family, but for Debbie Gala and Lauren Horney, their bond is stronger because of it. Both are instructors whom you’ll find in the two farthest corners of the club – yoga and aquatics.

Debbie’s and Lauren’s career paths didn’t only cross at HAC — the two found a home teaching at the now-closed YMCA in Newark, too. In 2003, Debbie began teaching yoga, a passion that grew during her time in Philadelphia where she poured herself into hot yoga classes. While there, others observed her knowledge and love for it and encouraged her to pursue teaching.

Debbie teaching hot yoga
Debbie teaching Align, a class built around a set sequence of postures

For Debbie, yoga wasn’t just about having fun and making friends — it was something she viewed as necessary for her health. “The reason I started doing yoga,” she says, “is simply because of how beneficial stretching is for your body. After taking just a few classes, I could feel the results immediately.” She noticed she could do more than she could before, like drive long distances without experiencing hip pain — an ongoing issue she’d been struggling with.

When HAC opened in 2007, Debbie joined us as a hot yoga instructor along with her daughter who’d already been with Pike Creek Fitness Club for six years. Where Debbie spent her time in the heated yoga studios, Lauren spent hers in and out of the water. Coming in with experience as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the Y and Pike Creek, Lauren did the same at HAC. She taught all levels and age groups, and even coached swim team. In 2012, when the certification for the Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) program was first introduced, Lauren diverted her attention toward the ground-breaking swim program.

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ISR Swimmer practicing lifesaving techniques fully clothed

If you’re unfamiliar with the ISR program, it teaches infants as young as six months and young children how to relax in the water, enabling them to perform lifesaving sequences successfully on their own. “While I teach a wide range of levels,” Lauren says, “I really enjoy the ISR classes because I believe it is the safest, most effective program I have been a part of. I can definitely see a positive outcome for both the family and the child after enrolling in the program.”

Lauren with ISR Student
Lauren with one of her ISR students

For Debbie and Lauren, seeing the progression of their students over time and making an impact in the lives of children and adults is what makes their jobs so rewarding. “Helping a child or adult overcome a persistent challenge,” Debbie says, “makes all the hard work worthwhile. Another source of motivation comes from the compliments and gratitude family members express. The fact that members show appreciation for all that we do makes us strive even harder to do our very best.”

The mother-daughter pair are bonded by their love of teaching and helping others, but Debbie believes it’s bigger than that. She sees a value that both yoga and swimming teach that extends beyond the two seemingly distinct domains.

“To learn how to swim or do yoga efficiently, it’s easy to forget the importance of remaining in a relaxed state of mind,” she says. “By thinking about the present moment and tuning out mental distractions of any sort, a person can effectively relax and channel nerves in a beneficial way. This crucial element for success then translates into the individual lives of children and adults when making decisions on their own; in doing so, they learn how to remain calm when confronted with a challenging circumstance.”

Holding hands together in a heart

Debbie also pointed out how working with her daughter for such a long time has built a connection between the aquatics and yoga department. “I will often come across people who regularly take my classes who also happen to have kids enrolled in swim lessons with my daughter,” she smiles. “It’s always a great feeling to have them acknowledge that connection and to witness the growth and improvement of those same people over time.”

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For the pair, it’s the people on an individual level and the overall welcoming, positive atmosphere that differentiates their jobs from alternative job opportunities. They’re excited to come to work and teach every day, not far from each other if but a window away, and we’re so glad to have such a great example of family on our staff.


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