Fitness instructor Katy Pate (left) leads a Parkinson’s support class at the McCleskey-East Cobb Family YMCA. Free six-month YMCA family memberships are available for those with Parkinson’s thanks to a grant from the National Parkinson Foundation. Contributed by Laura Berrios

YMCA gets Parkinson’s grant for free memberships, more classes

Fitness instructor Katy Pate has her YMCA class walking a straight line. But here’s the kicker: Participants must step on colored discs while spontaneously calling out a name that begins with a specific letter.

Someone wanted to know this was a sobriety test, and everyone laughed.

Nope. It’s just another fun exercise to get the feet and brain moving in the same direction. That’s not a simple task when you have Parkinson’s disease.

“We make it hard in class so in life it’s easy,” said Pate, using her usual good-natured pep to coax participants in the Parkinson’s Support class at the McCleskey-East Cobb Family YMCA.

The YMCA of Metro Atlanta offers Parkinson’s classes at most of its branches, and has been given a $20,000 grant from the National Parkinson Foundation to expand group fitness options and award scholarships.

The Y has 20 six-month family memberships to give away to qualified Parkinson’s patients at no cost. Indoor group cycling classes — similar to a spinning class — have recently launched at two Y branches with six more adding the class over the next month.

“Every day, we hear amazing stories from our Parkinson’s participants and instructors,” said YMCA director of program management Jennifer Rewkowski. “We’re very excited to be able to showcase these classes and everything that the Y has to offer for Parkinson’s patients.”

Parkinson’s Support is a movement class designed for all fitness levels and for those at any stage of the neurodegenerative brain disorder. Participants work on fitness, balance, strength and flexibility. They’re also paired with a wellness coach to help them increase energy levels and work through other symptoms of the disease.

In Pate’s class, she calls out a series of movements interspersed with tidbits of helpful information to make daily life easier. She leads participants in a shout, which works rigid facial muscles and voices that tend to get softer as the disease progresses. In one session, they got out the mats and practiced how to get up from a fall.

Participants have bonded into an organically formed support group, and they cheer when one of their classmates stands without needing help. A milestone. A few spouses join in the exercises, then scurry around to offer aid where needed.

Most are eager to start the new Parkinson’s group cycling class. Among them are Jim and Candy Gleason of Marietta. Jim, 73, is in the early stages of Parkinson’s, but Candy, 69, doesn’t have it. Once diagnosed, Gleason’s family quickly rallied around him, all with the encouragement to stay active. Research shows that exercise can make a difference in managing the symptoms, and possibly slowing its progression, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.

The Gleasons moved to east Cobb in December and quickly found two YMCAs nearby. They attend the Parkinson’s classes together twice a week, and also work out on their own.

“You’re more likely to stick with it working in a group than you are doing it on your own,” Gleason said.

Rewkowski said she is always looking for something more for Parkinson’s clients, and had long wanted to add a group cycling class. Rapid cycling on stationary bikes has been shown to be effective therapy for those with Parkinson’s.

Classes use the same consistent, high-speed cadence as in a traditional spinning class, but without standing on the pedals. Help is available in getting on and off the bike. Pate, who is leading the McCleskey class, said she will let class dynamics dictate the speed and length of the cardio exercise. Just getting used to being on a bike will take some time, she said.

In the future, Rewkowski wants to add group aquatics and boxing classes for Parkinson’s. “In water the fear of falling goes away. They feel safe at a different level,” Rewkowski said.

The goal is to draw more people with Parkinson’s into consistent exercise, and give them opportunities to join others who face the same health challenges.

Parkinson’s patients interested in applying for a YMCA scholarship can contact Rewkowski at Other discounts are available by joining the YMCA through the PD Gladiators at the Y fitness network. More information is available at


Indoor group cycling classes will be offered at the following Metro Atlanta YMCA branches:

• Ed Isakson/Alpharetta Family YMCA

• Decatur Family YMCA

• Carl E. Sanders Family YMCA at Buckhead

• South DeKalb Family YMCA

• Forsyth County Family YMCA

• Northwest Cobb Family YMCA

• Summit Family YMCA

• McCleskey-East Cobb Family YMCA

• East Lake Family YMCA

• Cowart Family YMCA

• G. Cecil Pruett Community Center Family YMCA

• Tull-Gwinnett Family YMCA

For more information: YMCA of Metro Atlanta; 404-588-9622