Published by HealthFitness on February 15th, 2019

It’s up to Shadi Rabi to ensure what’s occurring indoors is just as enjoyable and fulfilling as what’s happening outside. And, in Bethel, Alaska, that’s not always an easy task.

Rabi, along with his colleague, Stacey Reardon, serve, respectively, as Program Manager and Facility Director of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center, a municipal center owned by the city of Bethel and, for the past two-and-a half years, managed by HealthFitness.

The aquatics area, the only one of its kind in Bethel and the surrounding area, includes a six-lane competition-sized swimming pool (25 yards), two-story water slide, a shallow pool with zero point wheelchair accessibility, jetted hot tub, and men’s, women’s and family locker rooms.

Aquatics programming includes youth, teen and adult swim lessons, aqua Zumba, water aerobics and water polo. In addition, the Fitness Center hosts the Bethel Regional High School swim team. And the entire facility is built on stilts on the Alaska permafrost!

This past January, the Center hosted several “mushers,” including one Iditarod champion who had visited Bethel to participate in the Kuskokwim 300, the world’s premiere mid-distance dog sled race and one of the toughest in the state of Alaska.

HealthFitness sponsored miles 290-294, with all funds going directly to the race. Mushers were given access to the Fitness Center so they could shower, use the pool or hot tub and generally, relax before and after the race. After 300 miles outside in below freezing temperatures, the mushers appreciated getting up to their ears in hot tub water.

An outside-in approach
Beyond events such as the Kuskokwim 300, Rabi and Reardon, along with their team at the Center, integrate themselves into the local community through a range of services and activities built around movement.

The fitness area includes a cardio and weight room, aerobics studio, cycling bikes, men’s and women’s locker rooms, concession stand and pro shop. Group fitness activities include boot camp, family boot camp, boxing, JUDO, cycling, yoga and water aerobics. The Center has also hosted basketball and ultimate Frisbee leagues at the local high school gym.

Classes and programming offered at the Center include women’s self-defense, Smart Fit Girls, which teaches adolescent girls how to love their bodies by embracing their own strength; tobacco cessation, plus lifeguard and CPR training.

And the Center places a special emphasis on water safety education and outreach. Its swimming pool and aquatics program provide key resources for teaching community residents to swim, overcome fear of the water and develop a safety-conscious attitude towards activities on and around the water.

The Center’s staff also proactively engages the community, partnering with local businesses to develop membership opportunities for their employees, and working with the local hospital to promote healthy, community events.

Given radio is the most effective way to reach members of the community, the Center records Public Service Announcements promoting their activities with local station KYUK. And Rabi was recently interviewed as part of the weekly “Coffee at KYUK” series, where a member of the community is invited to discuss news and information of interest to Bethel and the surrounding area.

“People from the lower 48 states and large cities might take what our Center has to offer for granted,” explains Rabi. “But we’re providing something very unique with our facility and a variety of services that truly can make a positive impact on individuals and the community as a whole. Our team really focuses on doing what we can to ensure we’re a visible presence in the community.”

Getting people up and about
A five-year HealthFitness employee, Reardon was working onsite as part of the team managing the MIT Recreation Center in Cambridge, Mass. when she was approached in 2016 to help run the Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center. “I said to myself, ‘Well, I guess I’d better bring my winter coat,’” she recalls, laughing.

Since that time Reardon has adapted to what she and Rabi both refer to as a slower, more intimate way of life and feels fully vested in the Center’s ongoing success. She considers an ideal day one in which people are up and about—either within the Center’s walls or outside in the community.

Rabi, an avid outdoorsman, seized the opportunity to join Reardon and form a team in Bethel. Away from work, he and his fiancé can be found outdoors fishing, hunting and camping. “I have access to beautiful country most people never have a chance to see,” he says. “And I want to take in as much of it as possible.”

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