Free city program offers room to stretch out in the great outdoors

By Bill Wagner

Sandy LeMay is a yoga instructor, but she is a lot more than that these days. With the continued stress and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, she has found herself acting as a steward of her students’ emotional as well as physical well-being.

LeMay can be found on Monday evenings this summer teaching Vinyasa yoga classes at Summit Overlook Park in Ramsey Hill. She is part of the Fitness in the Parks program sponsored by the Saint Paul Department of Parks and Recreation that has been making changes on the fly since resuming in-person classes in mid-June.

Overlook is among a handful of Saint Paul parks where free, outdoor exercise activities are being offered. Fitness in the Parks began in 2014 and is open to all ages and fitness levels, with no experience or registration required. This summer’s classes will run through August 31.

Instructor Sandy LeMay leads a packed crowd in yoga during her Monday evening Fitness in the Parks class at Summit Overlook Park. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“There’s something about gathering, even if you don’t know the person next to you,” said LeMay. “I think a lot of people are just tired of being locked in their homes.”

Physical distancing is required for attendees and all classes follow current health and safety guidelines, such as wearing a mask when a six-foot distance between participants isn’t possible, washing hands and staying home if sick. Some class videos also are available on the YouTube Fitness Channel for those who don’t feel comfortable going out just yet. The classes are led by local fitness businesses and instructors partnering with Parks and Rec.

For LeMay, 61, assembling a group of people for workouts and fellowship is a task borne of love. This is her third summer of offering Fitness in the Parks classes and she said she gets special pleasure seeing people line up for classes and interact with each other as they make new friends. She said getting to know new people is vital to those who miss having normal social interactions.

 

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“There’s something about gathering, even if you don’t know the person next to you,” said LeMay, a longtime Highland Park resident until she moved to Cottage Grove last month. “I think a lot of people are just tired of being locked in their homes.”

LeMay and her husband raised three children, all of whom graduated from Highland Park High School. Last year, she was paid for being an instructor. This year, she was told that city budget constraints due to the pandemic meant she wouldn’t be able to be paid.

“But I didn’t even care,” she said. “I feel blessed that I can do this. “

LeMay said her Fitness in the Parks class has continued to grow this summer, with as many as 45 people turning out for one session. According to her, participants all know about the proper guidelines to follow because of pandemic concerns, and she doesn’t feel the need to belabor the point.

“They know how to socially distance without having to hear about it from me,” she said.

When asked what has been the most rewarding thing her students have said to her about her class, LeMay didn’t hesitate. “One said, ‘I just like it that the instructor keeps showing up,’” she said with a laugh.

The current Fitness in the Parks schedule also includes PIYo (Pilates Yoga) sessions with Gina Carlson from 6-6:45 p.m. on Tuesdays at the Lake Phalen beach house; Dancing Freedom with Teresa Reid from Rooted and Rising from 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursdays at Hidden Falls Park; a new Community Flow class with Northern Yoga from 7-8 a.m. Fridays at Raspberry Island; and Nia Dance from 9:30-10:30 a.m. Saturdays at Hidden Falls Park.

The classes are subject to change and are dependent on the weather. For more information, visit stpaul.gov/fitnessintheparks.

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