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You will have to ask his age to find out, because nothing about this retiree’s outward appearance, from his toned body to energetic outlook, will give you a clue.

Bill McMillen, when he’s not competing in triathlons, can usually be found at the Stuart C. Gildred Family YMCA wearing one of three hats: total health coach, personal trainer and Y-Cancer Well Fit program coordinator. In fact, he and wife Eileen have made the Y their retirement destination of choice. Bill hadn’t planned on becoming something of a fitness guru in his retirement, it was just sort of a happy mistake, he notes.

“I retired before Eileen and had plenty of time to work on projects around the house and exercise whenever I wanted. I did get some much delayed and major projects completed,” he says.

But heading to the gym got him out of the otherwise empty house. Why he was spending so much time exercising was a mystery to his wife at first. And while Bill doesn’t have a clear answer to what initially drew him to the Y, what kept bringing him back is easier to explain. “I found myself really enjoying trying out different classes, swimming more and cycling.”

He enjoyed meeting the people in the classes he took and the opportunity to build a social life. One day, he noticed the pool was looking for lifeguards and he figured he could be one. Bill McMillen joined the Y staff in February 2009, but he is also an active member.

“I don’t need to do this,” Bill says. “I’m not working for the money.” But just the same, the small paycheck that comes from his part-time employment is nice to have, he admits. Nicer yet were the changes he was beginning to see in his life.

“I didn’t notice it at first,” he says, but his clothes were fitting more loosely, he had more energy and was sleeping better. “One day, I got on the scale and discovered I lost about 14 pounds. Eileen started to notice that I was looking more youthful, was more energetic and generally happier,” something he had noticed too. So with all that newfound energy, Bill became a student again. Now that he is a certified personal trainer, he’s given up lifeguarding for the more intimate contact he has with his trainees in the gym.

“The Y isn’t just a name on a building but a spirit, a movement and a cause,” says Paula Parisotto, associate executive director and branch manager for the Y. Committed to improving the nation’s health and well-being, a big part of the program is listening to members’ needs, offering suggestions and supporting their journey. “Bill is one of our shining stars. He is a caring, compassionate and knowledgeable individual, and we are happy to have him on our staff,” she says.

Y members can sign up for an individual appointment with Bill or one of the other trainers. But Y personnel are regularly on hand in the weight room to assist with questions on how the equipment works or which exercises will improve strength in different areas.

Bill believes a person working toward optimum health should develop a personalized program of strength and cardiovascular training, stretching, and proper nutrition. He can help with that. But those elements are only one part of the equation. Studies prove that strong social connections are necessary for good health. That is something the Y can offer that many other gyms cannot.

“The Y is all about building healthy social relationships. What other gym has a lobby with comfortable seating where members can sit, have a cup of coffee and talk?” asks Bill.

“We, as Y staff, understand the value beyond the physical activities that we offer,” says Parisotto. Through their Open Doors program, no one is turned away because of financial need, which is especially important to the senior population who tend to have less discretionary income and often few family or friends living in the area. “Seniors comprise approximately 20% of our membership. Our Y is a place where they can comfortably exercise, socialize and feel secure,” Parisotto adds.

On any given day, teens can be found running on treadmills, listening quietly to their music, while their seniors carefully lift light weights to gain back strength and agility. Many seniors like the aqua-aerobics class in the heated pool, Bill says, because it is easy on the joints and falling isn’t a concern.

“You’re never too old to build muscle,” Bill points out confidently – a fact he was taught both in his classes and first-hand through experience. At last weekend’s Lompoc Triathlon, he placed second in his age group. “I’ve never thought of myself as a competitive person,” he says, trying to hide a smile as he admits he sometimes beats out guys in their 40s. But last weekend was a different story. “Eileen came in first in her age group and won’t let me forget it.”

When Eileen retired, she began following in her husband’s footsteps, Bill says beaming. He points her out through the window of her yoga class, eager to pull her out so she can join the conversation. She wasn’t sure what she would do in retirement. Eileen had talked about getting a part-time job teaching, but she is having too much fun at the Y to do that for the moment.

“Someone asked her what she does now. Eileen thought for a moment and said, ‘I exercise,’” Bill reports. “Nurturing the zest for life is the key. It’s not about extending life, it’s about putting more life into the days you have!”

The Y also offers child care for young moms trying to get back in shape, Bills says, noting they too can benefit from making new friends in a spinning or other group exercise class. There is a men’s exercise group, a myriad of yoga and floor exercise classes as well as a master’s swim group, he says naming just a few of the wide variety of options for members.

“The people on the staff are among the nicest people I have ever worked with.” He explains how employees are encouraged to engage members, make them feel at home, introduce them to each other and assist with their fitness goals. “Whatever their age or skill level, we can help get them started on a plan suited to their needs,” he says, hoping to be taken up on the offer.

None of the McMillens’ three children live nearby. In their mid-20s to mid-30s, none are as physically fit as their parents, Bill says, laughing at the irony.

“They’re so busy,” says Eileen, using the exact words her husband had to describe the circumstances. Inspired by their parents, all three have joined gyms and are working to get in better shape. They exchange photos and training tips with one another.

“I think one of the best things we can do for our children is to maintain good health as we age,” says Bill. It is also one of the best things you can do for yourself, and at the Y, you’ll find folks ready and willing to help. Bill McMillen is just one of them.

struax@syvjournal.com