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Columnist Liz Cassiday shares her excitement that stairs will no longer be a barrier to healthy activities at the Y.

I remember the first time I thought the music in a restaurant was too loud and the lighting was too dark. 

In that moment, I internally acknowledged that I had reached a new stage in my life where this kind of atmosphere was a distraction rather than an enhancement to eating out. I can think of many other similar incidents where I became acutely aware that I am no longer at an age to enjoy or embrace an activity or experience. 

Hostels, gas-station-nachos, coffee in the afternoon, new social media platforms and any activity that doesn’t allow me to be home by 9 p.m. are now part of this growing list of things I avoid.

One item on this list that is underlined and bold is stairs. I am still quite steady on climbing and ascending stairs, but how I view them has drastically changed over time. As a child, stairs were fun; easily becoming a ski/sledding hill or part of a fort. I distinctly remember after bedtime sitting on the third to top stair listening to the television hoping I would not be spotted from my high perch. Since my own children learned to crawl, I have observed with anxiety their magnetism to the stairs and the awkward approach they took toward mastering them. Through the lens of early childhood development, we actually celebrate when a child can climb the stairs alternating a different foot on each stair. From elementary age until early adulthood, stairs were something I scaled three at a time with a self-affirming confidence. Stairs were just one more youthful, thought-free experience.

Now, my relationship with stairs feels different. I have lost my footing several times while carrying a laundry basket, each time catching myself and having to calm my accelerated heart rate. Each year I encounter more and more people who have had bad tumbles that resulted in broken bones and concussions. Worst of all, two years ago I lost my aunt to a fatal fall down the basement stairs of a house she had lived in for nearly 40 years. Stairs have completely lost their fun factor. I now view stairs as a huge danger; one often overlooked due to the frequency in which they appear in our lives.

I have also started to view stairs as a huge barrier for equal access. In our local YMCA, there are more than 7,500 square feet of facility on the second floor. This space can only be accessed by trekking up two flights of stairs. While 20-year-old me would have viewed those stairs as a quick warm-up for the workout I am planning, now I increasingly view them as a serious issue that prevents many people from using this significant part of the facility. Every day I watch community members weighing the risk of navigating stairs against their desire to access the track or cardio equipment housed upstairs. Some opt to stay on the first floor and walk the perimeter of a gym in lieu of the track. Others take the risk of the stairs holding onto the railing for support and even more cautiously descending them at the end of a workout.

While I am so excited for so many parts of the Y’s Vision 50 Project that will result in a remodel of the original parts of the facility, I am especially excited the project includes moving all the fitness areas to the ground level. There are so many obstacles a person faces in a fitness journey, and I am excited that stairs will no longer be a barrier to healthy activities here at the Y.

Elizabeth Cassiday is executive director of the Sheridan County YMCA. 

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