“We believe very strongly in finding ways to bring people together.”
By Zachary Lewis
One day, Shaker Heights may be known for more than its schools and distinguished homes. If Recreation Department Director Alexandria Nichols has any say in the matter, the City also soon will be renowned for its wide array of fitness offerings.
Indeed, Nichols takes the department’s motto as more than just a tagline. To her, “Be Active. Stay Healthy. Have Fun” is practically a mission statement. “We believe very strongly in finding ways to bring people together,” Nichols says. “Our goal is to keep our community healthy and active. We want people to see their options and know all the amenities.”
It’s tougher than it sounds, especially in an older, fully developed city like Shaker Heights, where land is scarce. However, Thornton Park squeezes a lot into its space: a pool and ice rink as well as a basketball court, volleyball court, tennis courts, batting cages, a skatepark, and a sledding hill.
Shaker recreation offerings City-wide are not just for residents. People who are employed in the City can avail themselves of facilities and classes at resident prices. “We see a lot of competition, and competition is a big challenge,” Nichols says.
Shaker’s response? Think smaller. Rather than attempt to compete with nearby big-box gyms and well-equipped community centers, the City has
begun offering “pop up” courses: yoga and other exercise classes, in parks and other spaces, taught by residents. During summer, they’re even free.
The idea, Nichols says, is to meet people where they are, to get residents and people employed in the City into their parks, and provide a fitness outlet free of complication and obligation.
“There are a lot of people trying to find ways to be healthy, but who don’t want a commitment or something difficult,” she says. “Not everyone wants a gym membership in order to go to a fitness class.”
The City also has done its part to make outdoor exercise inviting. At Sussex Park, for instance, a group of seniors meets regularly to play pickleball on four specialized courts. At Southerly Park, the City recently turned an old fitness trail into an open-air gym complete with a stationary bike, rowing machine, and plyometric boxes used for jumping exercises.
“We think it’s really cool,” says Nichols of the Southerly Park facility. “I think we’ve tried to be more aligned with fitness trends we’ve seen out there.”
All of this, of course, is in addition to standard group exercise classes offered year-round through the Recreation Department. For seniors, there are swimming, and arthritis-specific exercise classes. Others can begin their fitness journey with “Health Seekers” and move on to boot camp, aerobic dancing, martial arts, or dancing.
The objectives are diverse, too. Nichols and her staff don’t just want to help people stay in shape. They also want to foster a sense of community through exercise.
“We’ve really tried to find new fitness opportunities for our residents and people who work here,” Nichols says. “We
encourage people to get in shape and get to know their neighbors.”