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CWC Fit @ Five

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — It's been many a mile since the Carroll Wellness Center opened almost five years ago, and the non-profit fitness facility remains in step with the community's needs.

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Members have put 1 million miles behind them on the 10 treadmills in those years, for example, said Executive Director Greg Hampton.

In just the first year, exercisers climbed 29,400 stories on the wellness center's step-mill alone — that's roughly equal to 288 Empire State Buildings.

Membership remains strong almost five years after the facility opened Jan. 14, 2004, with a current total of 2,464 individuals.

"It's hard to believe we've been open five years — time has really flown," Hampton said.

The membership number of 1,050, which includes families, is top from its peak of 1,400 in 2005.

That's a typical trend that a maturing facility sees — at first, people come in because of the newness of the facility, he explained. Then, wellness centers settle into a core membership.

Carroll's facility probably found its base number a couple years ago, Hampton points out, as 2007 ended with a membership number of 1,057 — very close to 2008's final figure.

"I feel that's pretty good with the economy we have right now," he said.

Wellness center staff continue striving to expand the programs and services provided to its membership, as well as the community, on an ongoing basis, Hampton said. Over the years, the facility has developed collaborations with Carroll County Public Schools, as shown by the continuation of the swimming lessons for all fourth graders and the summer physical fitness effort with the intermediate school.

A total of 837 people have received their American Red Cross certifications at CWC. That includes everything from the basics to lifeguard and CPR certifications.

The wellness center also has its own swim team, and has started programs to benefit senior citizens.

Seniors can attend the monthly "Seniors 55+" for social events and seminars; eat with the "Lunch Bunch," which visits regional restaurants; create cards and other paper crafts with the "Papershakers"; or play bridge Mondays at 1 p.m, said Kathy Ward, the wellness center's director of community operations.

First in their offerings in 2008, the wellness center arranged a bus trip to Smith Mountain Lake and the D-Day memorial in Bedford. Fifty people participated.

On another trip, 60 attended a performance of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" at Wohlfart Haus in Wytheville."

Over the passage of time, Ward has enjoyed seeing how the kids who once stayed in the supervised playroom grew up and what they're doing in sports.

Carroll Wellness Center continues to offer strong group exercise opportunities and has grown its personal training program with three certified personal trainers on staff, Hampton said.

The downside of being open for five years and attracting a lot of use is that the equipment starts to wear out, he noted. The facility has the replacement of its 10 treadmills on the schedule for 2009, after constant use has put more than a million miles on them.

Staff appreciates the support of the community and the CWC members, and the wellness center will continue to need that support in order to serve the community into the future, Hampton said.

Being open for five years means the wellness center has paid down an eighth of its $1.5 million construction loan. The $6,750 payment is due each month for the next 35 years.

One common misperception that remains about the wellness center is that it is government-supported, Ward said. She heard a visitor say that just the other day during a tour.

But the wellness center is an independent, standalone non-profit, Hampton said.

He sees lots of possibilities to continue to build up the center.

"I remain optimistic despite the economy," Hampton said. "There's plenty of people who need to exercise and I think we'll remain strong in the future."

A national statistic says that, on average, only 15 percent of an area's population joins a wellness center. "That leaves us 85 percent to go after," he said.

The continuing popularity of the wellness center justifies the faith of the community and all the hard work that went into developing the facility, said Randall Gravley, one of the people who led that push.

"I'm very pleased and satisfied with the acceptance the center has had in the community," he said. "It's just a good addition to the community, just like we hoped it would be."

It's helped people improve their health, provided people with a place to go for rehabilitative therapy and changed lifestyles, noted Gravley, who serves as the chairman of the board of directors. He's always happy to see the parking lot full of vehicles and people inside working out and socializing.

Just as important as the facility is the staff, he added. People are always commenting on the friendliness of the staff.

While organizers might feel concern about the effect of the economy, Gravley said disease prevention and health maintenance is by far the best way to go. "I hope people will put their health at the top of the priority list."

Planning for the fifth anniversary celebration is ongoing, Ward said. A waiving of the initiation fee is planned as a community appreciation.

Celebration events will occur all year on a quarterly basis, she said.

CWC FACTS

• Jan. 14 will mark the wellness center's fifth anniversary of operations.

• The facility has 1,050 individual and family memberships and serves a total of 2,464 community members.

• It has averaged 8,894 check-ins at the front desk each month of 2008.

• The wellness center receives no subsidies from the governments of Hillsville or Carroll County.

• Members have put 1 million miles on 10 treadmills in the past 5 years

• Exercisers have climbed 29,400 stories on the center's step-mill, about the equivalent of climbing the Empire State Building 288 times.

• The wellness center began offering metabolic testing in 2008. Staff started this effort last January after receiving a grant from the C.E. Richardson Foundation to buy the machine. It allows a person to breathe into a tube for 10 minutes and will provide that person's resting metabolic rate. Staff has conducted 147 such tests.