Joco Opinion

The skinny on hard-body mom gyms and the Paul Henson Y

After living south of Interstate 435 for most of my adult life, I moved north with my family two years ago to old Leawood. And whatever contrasts you can find in the north/south divide of our county, none embodies the differences more than a place I visited as soon as we moved north: The Paul Henson YMCA on 79th Street and Mission Road.

Work-out facilities are the rage these days, and Johnson County is brimming with them. At the top of the list you have Lifetime Fitness, Prairie Life Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, Planet Fitness, and those that cater to moms, like Orangetheory Fitness. We once belonged to Lifetime.

Some of us are old enough to remember when gyms were the domain of men so pumped up they couldn’t tie their shoes. Now they aren’t even gyms. They are “experiences” — for everyone including the dog. These days, declaring aloud that “I just finished my workout” is an über-cool declaration, which then requires a long glance at your Fitbit, while simultaneously cradling your iPhone.

But now we go to the Y. At my very first visit, it was immediately clear this was more my style. The entrance has a sitting area to the left of the front desk. A couple couches, some chairs with heavy padding. There is a coffee kiosk. But no one would confuse this with Starbucks. It offers Styrofoam cups and one of those coffee dispensers you see at parish centers after funerals.

This is where the men gather every morning. Think VFW meets the Good Feet Store. Here the Greatest Generation meets to solve world problems. Less opinion and more experiences. On the first morning I walked in, I noticed that the men were staring at the large, boxy television that hangs from the ceiling. Something was happening on the television and so I turned to get a better look for myself.

The TV showed up close images of young girls crying, screaming, while holding up their phones. Something was happening on a stage, some kids were “performing.” Turns out, the “band” One Direction was on “The Today Show.” I glanced back to the men assembled. It was as if they were watching the discovery of fire.

Right then I had found a new home.

I found the Y had other contrasts, too.

Lifetime, for instance, is where moms to go for yoga or spin. There are other Leawood workout areas like one called Fusion Fitness where they have such things as Bikini Boot Camp. Tabata + Toning — Tabata your way into a bikini!


I’ve not done any surveys, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a bikini program at the Y. It does have a Silver Sneakers program where women gather after they have already achieved their most important goal of raising happy healthy sons and daughters and now focus on getting the heart rate north of 130.

At Lifetime the women wear Lulu Lemon pants. At the Y, they have Lulu Lemon. She’s on the treadmill right now. Lifetime members sport workout electronics that require constant checking. At the Y, the ladies have their own distractions while they pedal — the crossword puzzle. Four-letter answer: “Adam and Eve locale?”

At Lifetime the members are Buffy, Brittany and Amanda. At the Y: Lee, Mildred and Gertrude.

At Lifetime, you bring yoga mats and yoga straps to assist with “range of motion.” At the Y, the men have their own range of motion: hiking up their trousers. At the Y, the trappings include radios, magazines and newspapers. Lifetime has a life coach to put mind over matter while wearing sheer pants. At the Y, the men had a life coach. He was their drill instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia. The year was 1954.

A bad day at Lifetime is a full day-care. A bad day at Y is missing bridge class because you’ve added swimming laps to your new workout routine.

But it would be inaccurate to suggest the Y has a bunch of old people. I mean, it has me, but it has young people too.

“We have a Bitty Sports program serving ages 3-5 in a variety of sports: soccer, flag football and T-ball,” The Y’s Vivian Livanos told me recently. “About 58 percent of our members are under 40.”

And yes the Y has yoga too, and on those days the parking lot is very full. And pilates. The Y even has a Zumba class, which I need to take so I can say “Zumba” constantly when my kids come home Memorial Day weekend.

No one cares about style, image or making statements. For me and Lori, it’s a very good fit. Even if my pants aren’t.

Matthew Keenan writes the first and third Wednesday of the month. Reach him at