COLONIE — The Ciccotti Center has a new executive director who has his sights set on increasing membership and upgrading the 10-year-old facility.
Blake Hamill came from Oklahoma to the Ciccotti Center in January, filling a six-month vacancy at the top spot in the only facility in New York state to be certified by the Medical Fitness Association.
Being certified by the MFA means the staff have a four-year degree in exercise science, kinesiology or a related field, and are certified to provide detailed assessments of a person’s body before they exercise, while they are completing a program and after the program is complete.
“That’s what sets us apart from the competitors,” Hamill said of the center’s MFA certification and the staff training.
The center offers a host of programs – from day camps to swim lessons to weight training – but what Hamill would like to see as the bread and butter are the Next Steps program and the Kids on the Move.
As the name implies, the Next Steps program is all about a healthy transition from a debilitating medical condition or a less than active way of life. For example, the nine “cohorts” offered at the center include those coming off cancer treatments, a serious surgery, a diagnosis of diabetes or metabolic disease or someone who simply wants to lose weight or become more active.
Some cohorts overlap, but with each eight-week program comes with the trained staffer overseeing the workouts and assessing the progress. The universal is progress, the individual goals are varied.
“In the media it’s all about six-pack abs and a size three for women, but that’s not always possible and not always the healthy way to go,” he said. “If you feel better, or have more energy or you have grandkids or kids and you can get down on the ground and play with them and get some of your life back, your quality of life back … that’s where it’s at.”
Kids on the Move is a program geared towards childhood obesity, a
societal problem Hamill said will get worse before it gets better because of “video games and phones and anything with a screen.”
“Schools are cutting back on physical education and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens to these kids over the next few years,” he said. “One thing we have found is that obese and overweight kids tend to be stronger than their counterparts so we teach them how to properly resist train [weight lifting techniques] and they find out it is something they can do and do well and it builds confidence.”
Those are two programs the center is highlighting at the moment, but there are traditional gym memberships and a host of camps – from lacrosse to basketball to arts and crafts – a swimming pool, two full size gymnasiums, an indoor track and the traditional weight rooms with free weights and machines.
What sets it apart from the YMCA or any of the other gyms in the area is the MFA certification, though, Hamill stressed. It is not only the only one in the state but one of just 32 nationwide with such a certification.
“Exercise is a medicine and if we can push people in that direction instead of writing a prescription all the time, it is cost effective for the individual and the benefits far outweigh the risks and the benefits outweigh what the prescription will do for the individual over the long term,” he said. “We have the specialists on the floor and we have the ability to do the assessments.”
Hamill works for Power Wellness, a company that manage facilities across the nation. The Ciccotti Center is owned by the Colonie Youth Center, a non-profit providing child care, counseling, recreational, educational health and fitness services. The CYC hired Power Wellness to manage the Ciccotti Center.
“He is a wonderful addition to the Ciccotti Center staff. He is incredibly knowledgeable about fitness, recreation, wellness and all the business function that go along with operating a center of that size,” said Nikki Caruso, the executive director of the Colonie Youth Center. “Not to mention he knows his way around a pool filter room.”
“I am really excited to see what happens in the next year. He has some great ideas.”
So far, in addition to an aggressive marketing campaign, Hamill has overseen new electrical work, a renovation of the locker rooms and an upgrade of the swimming pool infrastructure like pumps and feeders.
He ran a similar facility in Oklahoma that was attached to a hospital and before that a facility attached to a university. He recently movedhis three young children – 2-year-old twins and a 9-year-old – to Colonie.
“I think everyone thinks it’s (New York state) like Manhattan but it’s greener here than in Oklahoma,” he said. “And there are a lot more trees. In Oklahoma, you can’t tell when one town ends and the next town begins. We don’t have the seasons either. It’s either hot or cold in Oklahoma.”
He works out every day for two hours, an hour on the weights and an hour of cardio. But, he stresses, while his objective is to “get bigger” everyone has different goals they would like to achieve when walking in the Ciccotti Center.
“I’m just encouraging everyone to move,” he said, pointing to a feature on his desk which elevates so he can do paperwork while standing up rather than sitting down. “Sitting is the new smoking and smoking is one of the most unhealthy things you can do. The body is made to move and the rule of thumb is if you sit for 60 minutes you should walk around for 10 minutes. Women should take between 7,500 and 8,000 steps a day and men should take at least 10,000.”