More than a Gym: Seeing HAC through Jane’s Eyes

Back in 1971 as a high school senior, I had the honor of being a cheerleader at the Delaware All Star Football game. This is an event to raise funds for children with special needs in Delaware. Part of my role was soliciting ads for the football game program. I did not have a car, so I rode my bike around Newark raising funds for DFRC.

I met with mild success and was invited to attend a celebration at the Hagley Soda House, owned by the Carpenter family. I knew nothing of this family, but my boyfriend, who was a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, was amazed to see the owner of the Philadelphia Phillies watching the Phillies on TV at this celebration. Lucky for me, I married that boyfriend, and we had a son and a beautiful life together.

But the joy was short-lived, as he lost his life in a military aircraft accident.

Fast forward two years. I remarried and had three more sons. We had a joyous 37 years together and after the boys all left, Noo and I spent every morning at the Western Y. It became our happy place, and we gained so many new friends. Unfortunately, cancer took his life, at which point the Y was no longer my happy place. Following his death, after a few weeks of sorrowful glances and well-meaning how-are-you’s, I followed a friend to the HAC for a change of scenery.

I entered the HAC with a bit of a chip on my shoulder that was more like a boulder. No classes were as good as the ones at the Y, nor were the instructors. I didn’t understand all the HAC “hype”. But with time, as slow as lifting a 40lb weight, the weeks led to months and the boulder became lighter. Eventually I was no longer walking through mud. First, the people at the front desk learned my name, and I no longer needed to flash my HAC card. They smiled and greeted me so warmly; they were the first people I’d see each day, as I was always alone. Gradually, the instructors greeted me by name, too, and exercising was interrupting chats with others in class. My best friend from the Y joined me at the HAC and now I had three besties to catch up with in the Cafe’ along with another friend, Donna Healy, who worked there. Now, my four best friends and I hold each other accountable for getting to the gym and laugh and cry in the Cafe’ as we help each other solve our life’s problems; we call ourselves “The HAC 5”.

Before I knew it, I couldn’t wait to get to the HAC. It was not just the facility that was outstanding but the members, too. It is as if the HAC wrapped its arms around me and lifted me up ‘til I was able to succeed on my own. One class in particular, Rick McKay’s Advanced Conditioning class, became a favorite, as I’d been acquainted with the instructor for 20 years. His three boys were identical ages to three of mine and attended school together from grades 1-12. Along with his wife, Mary, we spent a lot of time together. Unfortunately, Mary lost her life to cancer, and the boys grew apart as they went off to college.

Now an Advanced Conditioning regular, I would often chat with Rick before class. When I was attempting the dating scene, I’d question him about how it was for him when he started dating after Mary died. I’m not sure when but our talks became a little flirtatious, and suddenly I had a “high school crush” at 64. Apparently, Rick did, too, as he posted on Facebook asking me to join him at his friend’s house for Friday cocktails. I was mortified and so concerned because my sons, his sons, all my friends and family, and my new HAC friends could see this invitation. I sent him a personal message asking him what on earth he was thinking; all of our family and friends could see this and YES, I’d love to join him.

It has now been close to five years we have been together and we even purchased a house in Rehoboth beach together.

I also now know who the Carpenter family is.

They are a family that impressed a young Naval Academy Midshipman, giving him a favorite story to tell his buddies. They are also a family that gives so much to the community they reside in often and without fanfare. They have provided a facility where strangers can become friends, the weak can become strong, and the strong can become stronger.

From those at the front desk, to the always smiling girls in the café, to the skilled instructors and the staff who keep the building clean, the beautiful pools, wide selection of classes, endless equipment, a sauna, a place to rehab sore and broken bodies with Elite PT, and the opportunity to relax and have those sore muscles massaged. I know of no other place in the state that offers so much.

Thank you for providing a place where I was able to rehab not only my body but my mind, find new friends, and even get myself a strong and handsome boyfriend.


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