Fulton County YMCA executive working to keep members fit at home

Facility still providing child care; building undergoing deep cleaning
Chris Defibaugh, CEO of the Johnstown YMCA, exercises in the parking lot during a Facebook workout.
Chris Defibaugh, CEO of the Johnstown YMCA, exercises in the parking lot during a Facebook workout.

JOHNSTOWN — Chris Defibaugh, CEO of the Fulton County YMCA, has made a career of teaching individuals about health, wellness, workouts and more.

For 16 years, he was a staff member at the Saratoga Springs Regional YMCA, eventually rising to the position of branch executive before being named CEO of the Fulton County YMCA last November.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the stoppage of almost all services of the Johnstown branch, Defibaugh closed most of the doors to the facility, but others opened.


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Defibaugh and his wellness staff began posting short videos on the Fulton County Y’s Facebook page showing members how to work out while staying at home — and encouraging them as well.

“Wellness has always been a passion of mine,” Defibaugh said. “I was a high school and college athlete. … Early in my career, I had started out as a healthy living director, did personal training. I taught group fitness classes, and even as I continued to take on a larger leadership role I still continued to coach and teach classes.

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“I haven’t taught in a group fitness setting in a couple years, but I still stayed active. It was a way for me to connect with our members.”

Earlier this month, Defibaugh shared some of his thoughts with The Gazette.

Q: What was the driving force [for] posting these workout videos?

A: We’re open for essential child care, which is wonderful. It’s one way that we’re continuing to help the community. I do miss seeing the members. I think the members miss seeing us. It was just one small way to try to reach out to people. Our lives have been dramatically changed in a day-to-day fashion, so if I can help provide some tips for people on how to stay healthy, it’s a little something at least I can try to do.

Q: How difficult was it for you to be forced to eliminate most functions at the Fulton County YMCA?

A: It was challenging, but luckily I have a great staff team, great board of directors and everyone just rallied and got stuff together. I think everyone tries to find some silver lining to all this and I think this whole pandemic is really going to change the face of not just what our society is, but what a YMCA is. I’ve been really proud of our staff and all of the online fitness things we’ve been able to offer.

We’ve been doing fitness tips. We have “Y 360,” which is an online platform for members to access group fitness classes, group fitness instructors who are doing classes, and hopefully soon we will able to start to live-stream some of our classes.

Q: While still providing essential child care, [are] there any other operational things at the YMCA?

A: It’s unique in that we had to keep part of the building open but close the rest of it. The pool is down, but we’re keeping the pool filter going to make sure that the water stays [clean]. The shutdown has allowed us to make sure that we’re doing a thorough, deep cleaning all through our building. We have gone through and scoured the locker rooms, scoured the wellness floor, done a deep cleaning through the fitness center all while still doing deep cleans in child care daily as it stays open.

Q: You were the first person to post a video on your Facebook page during this time. Did that lead to the staff videos?

A: I had been speaking with [wellness and group exercise director] Sheldon Howard, and trying to have him speak to some of the instructors and try to do some at-home fitness stuff. I had also just wanted to jump on the bandwagon, so it was easy for me to shoot that first video in a parking lot.

Q: Why do you think the videos are important?

A: I think for us, when we talk about what the YMCA can do in a community, [workout videos are] one of those things. The healthier a person is, the better their immune system is and the better their mental health is. If you can provide some tips and access to classes online, it’s just one way for us to try to support our community.

Q: What kind of planning goes into the videos?

A: My vision for it was to have a multitude of platforms. For my videos, if I can keep it four to five minutes and provide some information on things that people can put into their current workout routine or take those two or three exercises and do it this many rounds, this will be your workout, that is one avenue we can go down. We will get more into that live-streaming and “Y 360” has more of those half-hour, 45-minute classes. They have some boot-camp-style classes, Zumba-type classes that you can stream on your computer or iPad. For us, it’s just trying to get folks as many options as can fit into their lifestyle. Sometimes you don’t have a half an hour, sometimes you only have 15 minutes because you are at home, you’re trying to work from home and get your kids to get their online schoolwork done, too.

Q: What has the reception been about the videos you’ve posted?

A: It’s been positive. I think my staff knows that wellness is part of my everyday life, and I think they appreciate the fact that it’s just one more way for me to help support them. I’ve gotten some positive feedback online both from friends inside and outside of the YMCA.

They appreciate seeing me and in these strange times, it’s one way for us to be able to connect.

Q: Do you have any plans for additional videos or changes to the format?

A: Gov. Cuomo has declared group fitness class instructors to be essential workers now, so they are allowed to be in the building as long as they are not teaching a full class. What that means is that we could have an instructor come into the building and teach a live group fitness class — yoga, Zumba — and as long as they are not having anyone else in the room, they can do it right there in the building. I’m looking forward to live-streaming that in the next couple of weeks.

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Q: May 15 is the latest date to review business openings. What are your hopes for that date?

A: I keep my fingers crossed every day that we are flattening our curve. That is going to keep our community healthy and keep our people safe. That should be priority number one.

My hope is that come May 15, Gov. Cuomo recognizes that a YMCA and a place to be healthy [are] essential because the healthier you are, the better your immune system is, the better your mental health is. My hope is that he would be able to allow some kind of soft opening, [a] slow transition like he’s talked about. I think we as a Y are more than ready to make sure that we can have social distancing within our programs, open up certain aspects of our buildings for our members. Ultimately, it’s up to the governor and we are going to follow whatever guidelines he has, but we are more than happy to be here for our folks as soon as we can.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, Rising to the Challenge, Special Sections

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