By Denise Woodin
Laura A. Laura has one piece of advice for those who want to be stronger and healthier: get a move on. “If you find yourself idle or standing still, just move more,” she remarked during a recent conversation at the Rye YMCA. “Three times a week at a gym is never going to be enough.”
She should know. For the past ten years, this Rye resident has gently, but firmly pushed hundreds of teens and adults to become their strongest, healthiest selves. As a floor trainer in the Y’s Fitness Center and, later a sought-after personal trainer, Laura has coached Y members of various fitness levels, from triathletes to seniors with dementia, to adults who are struggling with injuries. In 2011, she was promoted to Member Wellness Coordinator, a position that has broadened the scope of her work, allowing her to engage with members in a more holistic way.
Before Laura landed a part-time job at the Rye YMCA, before she married Pete Laura, becoming — well — Laura Laura, she was an animal-loving young athlete growing up in New Rochelle and Mamaroneck. She played hockey — not well, she confessed —and soccer, and, with her older sister, rode horses. For her 14th birthday, her family adopted a dilapidated hack horse. Laura laughingly agreed that the horse, along with a disabled dog adopted from a shelter, became her first personal training projects.
In 2007, Laura was a recent graduate of the University of Hartford where she studied criminal justice and sociology. Her then-boyfriend Pete suggested that she apply for a job at the Rye Y while she considered applying to the Police Academy.
“I was very intrigued by community policing and worked with juvenile delinquents for about a year,” she recalled. While she found the work very rewarding, she decided not to pursue a career in criminal justice. “I continue to do a lot of community outreach by working at the Rye Y, and it’s a safer setting!”
As Laura took on more responsibility, moving from part-time to full time, her family life became increasingly intertwined with the Rye Y. Pete has been a Fitness Center floor trainer for over 15 years and teaches an indoor cycling class. In 2014, Laura gave birth to the couple’s first child, Gracyn, who is growing up a Y kid. “She loves it here so much,” Laura remarked. And Laura’s mother Gale met her second husband at the Y. In 2012, she married Bill Guyre, formerly a Rye Y Member Services staff person and currently president of Wainwright House.
In 2015, Laura noticed a programming gap for members who were not ready for high-intensity workouts, but were motivated to push themselves beyond gentle classes like Enhance Fitness, for adults with arthritis, or LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, for cancer survivors. At the same time, Laura was leading a weight-loss challenge group, whose members wanted to continue working out together. Working with Yvonne Bibas, a fellow trainer and instructor, Laura created Basic Training, a small, moderate intensity class that focuses on strength, flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular health. It was an instant hit. Laura and Yvonne started with two classes a week. When those “maxed out,” they added more and now offer seven classes per week.
For the women in the weight-loss group, Basic Training offered a change of focus. “I geared it more to strength,” Laura said. “Instead of their clothes fitting better, could they do everything easier? Could they increase their weights? Could they go longer on a cardio piece? Could they keep up in a class? So it became more about overall health and wellness than just fitting in your clothes. After we changed that, I could see the energy in the class increase. And I always encourage people not to be thin, but strong.”
Last spring, the Y at its Annual Dinner honored Laura with the Excellence in Innovation Award. Executive Director Gregg Howells praised Laura’s commitment to members, “which shows in everything she does, from her one-on-one interactions to the classes she leads. She knows how to push those in her care, but always with a smile.”
And the feeling is mutual. “It’s very nice to work in a place where you feel supported and loved by the community and the members. I always say ‘you’re not here for the wealth,’ you’re here for people that you get to be with every day.’”
Reflecting on a decade well spent at the Rye Y, Laura said, “I’ve had so many incredible experiences. “I’ve had wheelchair-bound people walking again. I’ve worked with a few clients with dementia, which has taught me patience.” She added, “Personal training involves a lot more than just pushing clients a little more in their workout routines. It’s about embracing and helping them in many aspects of their lives.”
Laura Laura and her daughter Gracyn