Recently, I sat down with long time YMCA volunteer and community leader, Bob Long, pictured above on the top left.
MD: Bob, I can’t begin to thank you for all you have done to support the Carlisle Family YMCA over the past 40 years. How did you first get connected with our Y?
BL: Upon moving to Carlisle in 1976 there were no soccer programs for the kids, except for the Army War College kids who played on post. This surprised me as most other communities had soccer programs underway. A group of us decided to start a program in Carlisle, but we didn’t know how it would be received by the kids. We advertised a sign up day and worked out a deal with the War College in case we didn’t get enough kids to run our own program. On sign up day, the turnout was overwhelming and we were ready to go, or so we thought. We put together a rule book, recruited parents/coaches and built small sized goals. The fields were borrowed from Dickinson College and Carlisle Rec Dept., and they had to be cleaned for every game. We also used volunteer referees, but after a few years the kids who took their soccer seriously knew more than some volunteer referees. So we switched to paid refs who knew the game. As the program grew, thankfully, the Y was willing to take over the soccer program and provide the organization, funding and management that brought soccer to where it is today, with a dedicated program space at the George B. Stuart Athletic Fields on Rockledge Drive, and over 1,000 kids from ages 4-18 participating each year.
MD: You clearly helped provide many local kids the opportunity to get involved in sports and reap the benefits of physical activity and healthy competition. When did you become active as a Y member yourself?
BL: I began playing handball in New York City at the New York Athletic Club where we squeezed in a few games each week at lunch time. Upon moving to town, I was overjoyed to find I could continue to play handball at the Carlisle Y, only a few blocks from my home. Not only convenient, the Carlisle courts were every bit as good as those we played on at the NYAC. The courts had solid plaster walls and natural wood floors. The level of play was competitive and there were several players of similar ability who were about my age. The Y drew players from our community, the Army War College and neighboring towns between Harrisburg and Chambersburg. We played mostly hard-fought singles and some doubles and cutthroat. Having played for over 40 years, I have to admit we have slowed down and the games are not quite as competitive as they were. Sometimes we even root for each other and are complementary of our opponents’ good shots. That never happened in our younger days. Our games led to lasting friendships and regular socializing. If this sounds like fun, we could use a few more players as the regular handball players are thinning.
MD: If anyone wants to take you up on that offer, what should they do?
BL: You can find us on the handball courts Monday 7-9pm and Friday 5-7pm. We will even supply the balls and gloves to any willing, new player. Come try out a great game on our great courts at the Carlisle YMCA.
MD: I know that you are also a regular fixture in the pool. When did that begin?
BL: Swimming for me began with my children. The YMCA is famous for teaching people to swim and the Y has been doing it in Carlisle since the “Learn to Swim” program was established in 1932. Once kids can swim, they can join the swim team, as ours did, to improve their stroke, make friends and have lots of fun. In middle age, I began doing triathlons and needed to improve my swimming. Once again, the YMCA was there for me with a masters swim program. The pool was so busy that they had to open the pool early for the 30 or so master swimmers. Our workouts ran from 5:30-7:30am and we would swim about 2-3 miles each day, depending on the workouts. That got you ready for work and usually meant early to bed the night before. Currently, my swimming is more low key, down to about 1 mile per week and I usually share the pool with a large group of seniors doing water exercises who thoroughly enjoy their water workout. I find it very inspiring to watch them keeping fit in the water. Perhaps someday that program will be there for me.
MD: At the Y we often say that our programs and services improve lives. I understand that, in your case, it also helped to save a life!
BL: Yes! Among the many programs offered at the YMCA was cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) instruction. This is the kind of thing you need to know, but hope you never have to use. Just after completing the course, the very next week I had to lift my 3-year-old daughter off the bottom of our swimming pool and administer CPR to get her breathing again. We raced to the hospital and things worked out fine. I don’t believe it was a pure coincidence that I had just received the necessary training that I used that day. For me, it was a “there must be a God” moment.
MD: Being as busy as you are with your business and family, why have you chosen to serve on our Capital Campaign Leadership Cabinet?
BL: For over 40 years, we have enjoyed our family membership at the Carlisle YMCA. Since 1859, the Y has been here for everyone and is only as good as the people who work there and those who use it. It’s where friends meet for workouts, a program, a bike ride or the Turkey Trot. Our entire community has benefited from its programs that have helped instill personal intellectual and physical development which make Carlisle a better community. It is the oldest facility of its kind in town and badly needs to be updated to current standards. This will be done if everybody who benefits from the Y supports the necessary building improvements which are about to be undertaken. I am honored to do my part to strengthen our YMCA to serve generations to come.
-by Marcia Drozdowski, Executive Director