In addition to touring Medieval towns, centuries-old churches and taking in breathtaking panoramas of the Italian countryside, my trip to Italy had something new on the itinerary: visiting a YMCA.
My base was Siena. While planning day trips to the Tuscan countryside, I discovered there was a YMCA branch in the nearby town of Grosseto. I contacted the manager, Deborah Scalabrelli, about coming for a visit and exchanging some souvenirs. I work at a YMCA in Cincinnati, the Y at Duck Creek.
Deborah is a personal trainer, a Pilates instructor and was recently certified to teach Pilates for children. I asked what prompted the children’s Pilates course. “Children are at school all day, they sit in front of a computer, they’re bent over looking at their phones,” she said. “This helps them (strengthen) their posture.” She emphasized that by teaching them how to strengthen their core now, they’ll keep up the training when they get older, especially if they play sports. “We design a program for them.”
She said they’re also starting to get a lot of requests for classes for older adults. Looks like it might be time for Silver Sneakers, Italian Style.
Deborah and her husband Giovanni Natale have owned the Y for several years. It was once a gym but they turned it into a YMCA in 2002. They are one of five YMCAs in Italy. There are two others in Rome, one in Calabria and one in Sicily, in Catania.
Grosseto, located in southern Tuscany, isn’t on the list of main Tuscany tour routes, like Florence and Siena. So I was a bit surprised when I walked in and saw a display of Major League Baseball jerseys and caps. It turns out that Giovanni is the strength coach for the Italian national baseball team. When he comes to the states, he visits teams and brings back great souvenirs, including some signed jerseys. They also coach a YMCA Grosseto Little League team, which includes three girls.
Baseball is becoming more and popular in Italy. In addition to coaching a team for the Y, Deborah and her staff are hosting a baseball camp for boys and girls aged 7-13. The camp’s agenda reads: workout, lunch, English lesson, workout. They also meet with a nutritionist and health specialist.
That’s a great idea because when I arrived in Grosseto, en route to the bus depot, I counted at least five fast food places. This was just a bit disappointing since, in my opinion, Italy has the best cuisine in the whole world. “Now all the new restaurants are fast food,” said Monica, a Y member who is also a physical education teacher at a grade school. She wasn’t too happy about that. “We have to maintain our traditions, our identity.”
In addition to the normal things you’d see at a Y – weight machines, TRX straps, kettle bells – there was also a Michael Jordan statue. “We like Michael Jordan. We like basketball,” Deborah said.
We exchanged some YMCA shirts and headbands, made a short video and talked about how much we both like going to the Dolomite Mountains for vacation. Deborah actually climbs, with ropes and clips and things. Me? I just hike. I’m not as brave as she is.
I would have stayed longer, maybe even done a quick workout but, thanks to Deborah checking the bus schedules, I had to catch a bus to Castiglione della Pescaia, a beach town about 30 minutes away. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have hopped on an elliptical. *wink