Auburn’s YMCA: ‘More Than ‘Gym and Swim’

By Joe Sarnicola

When Laura Clary was a cheerleader at Ithaca High School, she never imagined that eventually she would be the health and wellness director of the Auburn YMCA.

She felt that cheerleading was not being recognized as an athletic endeavor. So she developed workout and resistance exercise for her teammates, which fostered a love for the teaching and promotion of fitness.

In the mid-1980s, Clary was married with two young children and living in Auburn. After becoming a member of the Auburn YMCA, she was asked to start teaching other members, beginning with stretch and tone and pregnancy fitness. As she added certifications to her resume, she was able to teach a wide range of classes, such as Zumba and active older adults and she is certified as a personal trainer by the National Exercise Trainers Association.

One of the programs Clary is most excited about is Livestrong at the YMCA, which was developed by the Livestrong Foundation to help cancer survivors improve the quality of their lives, manage certain symptoms and side effects of treatments and connect with other survivors.

“This is the most important program I have been involved with,” she said. “The classes are deliberately kept small and it is great to see so many friendships develop.”

According to, the program typically lasts 12 weeks, with two 75-90-minute sessions per week that include cardiovascular conditioning, strength training, balance and flexibility exercises.

In Auburn Clary and her co-facilitator, Wendy Vitale, conduct fitness and quality of life assessments before and after participation. The program requires referral and medical clearance from a physician. More than 75,000 people have completed this program nationwide, with nearly 800 YMCAs participating. This is a free program and participants are given a free three-month YMCA family membership while in the program at Auburn.

The Auburn YMCA was organized in 1859, making it one of the oldest in the United States. Building on the history of the organization, Clary said new programs are planned for the future.

“My niche has become our evidence-based chronic disease programs. These are developed by medical professionals and then reported to the CDC to show their validity,” she said.

She is the program manager for enhance fitness (an arthritis management program) and the blood pressure self-monitoring program, a new program to help people manage their blood pressure that will launch in January 2024.

In addition to the classes, programs, and equipment available to members, the YMCA offers an onsite pre-school program and operates before- and after-school programs at several local elementary schools, a summer program for youth at Camp Y-Owasco on Owasco Lake, a before- and after-school program at several local elementary schools and a school and community-based program for at-risk youth call Y-Pals.

Clary summed up her feelings about the Auburn YMCA with a simple sentence: “What sets our Y apart, besides its history, is what we offer. We are much more than ‘gym and swim.’”