In 1999, the Athens-Limestone Hospital made a forward-thinking move, and that was to open up a Wellness Center. Since then, the center has been a major player in giving the people of our area strong options in their pursuit of improving their health by increasing their level of fitness. In anyone’s world, prevention is always going to be a better option than treatment, both in terms of financial savings and quality of life.
The Wellness Center has been well-used, and as such, has been in need of refreshing. That project has been on-going since Blake Lane took over as Director of the facility in 2014, having come to Athens after working at the Madison Wellness Center. Blake has a Master’s degree from Auburn, and has worked in exercise physiology and health marketing. His move to Athens was the next step in his career, one he was glad to make.
“My vision when I got here was to modernize,” Blake told me. “We needed new equipment, and even though there was still some that still worked fine, no matter how often we cleaned it, it still looked worn and stained. Same for the carpets. So, we got to work,” he said.
The first thing that happened on Blake’s watch was to paint and get new floors. Then he set to work on securing new equipment. Most of the equipment is made by Precor and Cybex. They got new treadmills, spin bikes, and replaced strength equipment. Another improvement was to get new carpet throughout, made for high-traffic use, and designed in squares that can be individually popped up and replaced.
“The pool was a priority,” Blake told me. “The guts were from 1999, and now there is much better technology,” he said. They made several upgrades, and have someone who has made the pool their “baby,” cleaning and checking it routinely so it can stay ready for every client, whether you are someone who needs to be hoisted into the pool via a therapy chair, or someone who is there to pound out several laps in the comfortably-heated lap pool. There is also a hot tub, which is quite popular.
One of the things that sets the Wellness Center apart is that every employee either already has a bachelor’s degree or is “working on it,” as Blake said. “This is a medical-based facility, and we need people who know what they are doing,” he added. One of Blake’s passions is helping employees of the hospital itself improve their health. The health care field is stressful, with long and sometimes unpredictable hours, and medical professionals are not immune from some of the things that plague the general populace, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues. The Huntsville Hospital system will give a free membership to the Wellness Center for any hospital employee, and it is good at any of the other hospital wellness facilities. The cafeteria at the hospital has also started to offer healthier meal options. “Doctors that work crazy hours can work out here either before or after their shift,” Blake told me, which leads to one of the best of the improvements, the 24/7 access, which just went into effect.
“Now everyone can use the facility whenever they want, and we are excited about the expanded weekend hours,” Blake said. During the week the pool is available 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., on the weekends it is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1-5 p.m on Sundays. The front desk is staffed from 8 a.m.-noon on Saturdays.
The 24/7 access has been made possible in part by new software, which helps to keep track of the nearly 4,000 members at the Wellness Center. “There has been big growth in the last year, mostly because of word-of-mouth advertising,” said Blake. “That’s the best kind,” I returned. The new access will include a security gate; the pool will be locked; there will be cameras and key card access for everyone, beginning at the front door.
Blake’s goal and vision is to have the cleanest facility, with the best trained staff, the most amenities and the greatest opportunity to help the community improve its health of any center in North Alabama. To that end, the Athens-Limestone Wellness Center has a Silver Sneakers program, affordable personal trainer packages, and play care available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-noon, and then 3:30-7:30 p.m. They have nearly 50 classes per week—everything from spin classes to water fitness to yoga, all designed for any skill level.
Memberships start at $45.00 per month, with unlimited access. Come and take a tour of a ground-breaking facility that has stood the test of time, has been renovated to better serve you, and is ready to help you on your health journey, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner