Workout Buddies 4

The transformative power of a routine, 
community program, and friendship

Alyssa Martin and Sarah Nasby have gotten into a groove. For the last year and half, every morning, Monday through Friday at 9 a.m., they’ve met for a workout at YMCA Missoula. It doesn’t matter if they’re tired or grumpy, if it’s raining or snowing: at 9 a.m. they hop on spin bikes and start cranking. The spinning wakes them up, gets their blood flowing, but it’s only the warm-up.

At noon they’re back at it with a muscle fusion or barre class for another hour. It’s an exhausting schedule to even think about, but for Alyssa and Sarah, their routine has become more than a daily workout schedule—it has become transformative.

“It’s our hangout,” Alyssa told me as I settled in at the Y lobby to talk with them after morning classes.

“We motivate each other,” Sarah added. “If we’re having a bad day, we can spin it out.”

Alyssa is part of the Y Otters Special Olympics team. She met Sarah through a mutual friend and began coming to the YMCA with her three years ago. Together, these women have been the flagship model for the Workout Buddy Program at the YMCA, which allows Y members with disabilities to bring a buddy to the gym to join them at no additional cost. Day in and day out, without fail, they show up for each other, and the commitment has brought amazing results. Between the two of them, with a daily workout routine and a changed diet, they’ve lost more than 100 pounds. But beyond the physical transformation, those around them have seen them gain confidence in themselves and forge enduring friendships.

“The relationships they’ve built here have probably changed their lives as much as anything else,” their barre and muscle fusion instructor Jackie Smith said. “They’ve met a lot of other really wonderful women here. It’s much more than just a workout.”

The strongest friendship they’ve created has been with each other:

“I can’t imagine my week without you” Sarah told Alyssa with a sweet smile.

“Me either,” Alyssa beamed. “I can’t imagine it without you.”

The two appear to be inseparable, going on bike rides, out to dinner, to movies and on field trips to Splash Montana or Symes Hot Springs. Their families have become close friends, too. This month, Sarah is taking Alyssa with her to visit her family in Minnesota.

With their remarkable consistency, Alyssa and Sarah have become well-known at the Y.

“Oh yeah, I’m famous. I’m pretty popular around here,” Alyssa told me proudly. Jackie said that everyone in her classes knows Alyssa and Sarah and counts on them being there. Sarah helps to keep Alyssa on task and Alyssa helps to choose the workout jams. Her favorites are Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande. After Special Olympics competitions, Alyssa brings her ribbons and medals to share with the class. She’s become fully integrated into the Y community.

Sarah can’t discount how much the Y’s mission—”Strengthening Community”—has played in their success: “I’ve been to a lot of other gyms around town but the sense of community, the level of classes, the instructors are all awesome. It’s unparalleled.”

With the Special Olympics and the Montana Down Syndrome Association both housed at the YMCA, Sarah sees promising opportunities ahead to further integrate those with adaptive needs into the community. She often sees Personal Care Attendants come to the Y to help their buddies with adaptive needs, but they don’t often workout with them. By modeling how the workout buddy program can benefit both of them, Sarah’s hope is that the program can become more widespread.

I wrapped up by asking Alyssa what her goals were for the Special Olympics in May, where she competed in track and field, bowling, and basketball.

“Cheering on my teammates and helping them out,” she said without skipping a beat. “And the dinner and dance,” she added.

It’s this selfless attitude, apparent to everyone around them, that has transformed Alyssa’s and Sarah’s lives and set a shining example for the YMCA community.

“I’ve worked here 28 years,” Jackie said. “I’ve seen a lot of amazing things happen to a lot of amazing people, but this is definitely one of my favorite stories.”