Workout buddies log 23 years together

Mike DeDoncker

They’re not just consistent. They’re more of a given.

At 7:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Betty Leeson, Mary Hamp, Emmy Haug and Joan Slack are in place next to each other in the front row of the YMCA of Rock River Valley’s Total Body Conditioning class. It’s pretty much been that way for the past 23 years, except that Slack was in front of the class as its instructor for much of that time.

“They’re the reason I’m here, because I love them so much,” Slack said. “These women are so faithful and, once they start the class, they stick unless they move away or they get a job that doesn’t allow them to come. We have the women who have been with us for 20 years or more, but it’s also women of all ages.”

Hamp said the group, all in their late 70s to early 80s, keeps her inspired to continue a regular workout regimen. She and Haug also meet before each class to walk the Sinnissippi Recreation Path.

“We didn’t know each other before this class,” Hamp said, “and it means a lot to me to see the other people when I come to class. It also means a lot that Joan has kept us on track all these years.”

Hamp said she doubts she would have been a consistent exerciser if it hadn’t been for the class and her friendship with Haug.

“This is a good discipline,” she said, “because I know I have to be in the parking lot at 6:30 to meet Emmy. I can’t miss, and we have to be in here at 7:30 so we motivate each other.”

Class instructor Julie Beck, who took over this spring after recent surgery convinced Slack she couldn’t be the everyday instructor anymore, said she was immediately taken by the closeness of the class participants.

“Right away, I saw the dedication of the women and they’ve made some really good friendships,” Beck said. “They watch out for each other and just to see them continuing to workout every Monday, Wednesday and Friday is impressive. They’re working out, lifting weights and doing everything I ask them to do.

“They really are the ultimate workout buddies. They do things together socially, not just exercise, so this has really come a long way for them.”

Leeson and Haug said they started classes when they were held in area churches and then moved to the YMCA with Slack when those programs ended.

The class is called Total Body Conditioning, but Slack said the name has changed at least a dozen times over the years. There have been other changes, she said.

“When we began 23 years ago, it was two half-hour classes a week,” Slack said. “We did the same thing two times in a row every week.

“Then we changed to a 50-minute class it was choreographed floor exercise. We did the same thing every day to the same music. It was very boring. Now, we have our own moves, we copy from one another and we use a lot of different music.”

Leeson, who said she was a regular walker before she began the class, said several things combined to encourage her to stick with it.

“I had started when they were held in the churches because it was convenient,” Leeson said, “and then I was planning a trip with my son to hike in the Alps and I decided I’d better get into shape. I started down here at that time and I also took a step class because I really needed to build. I just kept going.”

Haug credited the quality of Slack’s instruction with keeping the interest of her classes. “We’ve had 20 years of good teaching from Joan,” Haug said. “I enjoy seeing my friends in class, but I’d come regardless. I just don’t feel right if I don’t do it.”

Slack said the close friendships kept her motivated throughout the years of planning class sessions.

“They come to class where they are the closest of buddies,” she said, “and if someone doesn’t show up, they want to know why and I’d better find out in time for the next class.”

Mike DeDoncker can be reached at (815) 987-1382 or