SANFORD - Standing chest deep in water waving around floating foam barbells probably isn't how most students in Central Carolina Community College's group exercise class expected to spend the afternoon. But that's exactly where they were.
About 20 were scattered around the shallow end of the indoor pool at Sanford's Ingram Family YMCA following instructor Josh Tillett as he walked them through an hour-long water aerobics routine. It was never something most of them would try on their own -- and that's exactly why they were there.
"It's one thing to be in your comfort zone on ground, but what I'm trying to do is make our students grow," said Carl Bryan, program director for Health and Fitness Science and instructor for HFS 120, a lab-based course teaching students how to design and conduct group exercise classes.
The same students were back at the YMCA another afternoon to jump on stationary bikes and see how a different fitness instructor handled that form of exercise.
It's a perspective students never would have gained if it weren't for an evolving partnership between the college and YMCA, created about three years ago to give students broader opportunities for experience and growth.
John Mendez, a freshman who spent four years in the U.S. Coast Guard before enrolling in Health and Fitness Science, was one of those who jumped on a bike and into the pool. He says that being out of his element helped him understand how successful fitness instructors create a more comfortable environment for participants. It's not something many outsiders would even consider, but it's actually an essential part of the job when someone walks into an unfamiliar setting to work out with people they've never even met. "There are a lot of 'unknowns,'" he says, "and people can fear the unknown."
The CCCC-YMCA partnership began when Bryan picked up the phone and called YMCA Executive Branch Director Zac West to pitch the group exercise idea. West immediately jumped on board. "Zac was really great working on his end to make sure everything worked out," said Bryan. "It's a beautiful partnership."
That initial relationship has expanded. When asked how much ground it covers now, Senior Director of Healthy Living Nick Hoffman begins by talking about how those group exercise classes are specifically designed by YMCA instructors to help students prepare for their future careers. Then, he mentions some students who did internships at the YMCA and how his organization participates in the CCCC Health and Fitness Fair, a public event offered on campus every fall. Someone from the YMCA even attends Health and Science advisory board meetings, so academic leaders know what potential employers need from future graduates.
Health and Fitness Science has formed other partnerships as well. Already, Bryan has ongoing relationships with Brian and Katina Smith at Sports-Fit Personal Training, martial artist Jeremy Jackson and his Black Belt Leadership Academy and the Sanford Yoga Center, which hosts group exercise students for a relaxed yoga class.
FirstHealth started working with CCCC this academic year in a new relationship that's still unfolding, and the college has reached out to other organizations who step in from time to time. Earlier this fall, Bryan worked with the Indianapolis Colts and his friend Richard Howell to arrange a teleconference on athletic training. As the head strength and conditioning coach for the NFL squad, Howell brought 25 years of experience and plenty of star power to the exchange.
"For me, it just expands the classroom," Bryan said, explaining why partnerships are so important for his students. "It's one thing to talk or lecture, but this is the real world. It's kinetic. It's tangible."
Bryan believes the college is blessed to have all of the partnerships and points to his early relationship with the YMCA as one that has blossomed to provide significant opportunity for students to learn fitness training from accomplished instructors and begin developing a professional network that will help them in their new careers.
What might unfold in the future? Bryan doesn't know for sure. At the moment, the YMCA relationship is in what he describes as a "nice reciprocity" and he never wants to overstay his welcome. On the other hand, there might be a time down the road when he knocks on the door again with a new idea. And when he does, whoever answers will probably be listening.
Most of Hoffman's own experience with the college has been focused on those group exercise classes, but everything he has seen so far has been encouraging. "It's been fantastic; I've had no issues at all," he says. "Carl has been great. The work-study students have been good and helpful. We've had a great experience with the college and with the classes. The kids are very receptive and respectful during classes. It's all been positive."
To learn more about Central Carolina Community College, visit www.cccc.edu.
Central Carolina Community College Health and Fitness Science students participate in water aerobics at Sanford's Ingram Family YMCA.
Central Carolina Community College Health and Fitness Science students participate in stationary bike exercises at Sanford's Ingram Family YMCA.