By Polly Keary, Editor
Joining a gym isn't for everyone.
Some people can't spare the expense for something they aren't sure they will use.
Some people are intimidated by the environment, or afraid they'll be out of shape compared to everyone else.
Some people are afraid they aren't thin enough.
Some people find exercise classes too hard.
Some people are afraid they won't know anyone.
All those people can get what they do want; exercise and better health, without the anxiety, at a new social fitness event taking place twice a week in Monroe.
The group, called Fit with Friends, is the brainchild of Jennifer Ray, who once herself struggled with making new friends and getting in shape.
A Monroe native who moved away for several years before returning two years ago, Ray had a career that kept her working in a small office and socially isolated. And she was reluctant to join a gym.
"I was 45 pounds overweight and I was embarrassed to go to the gym," she said. "I was afraid there would be all these people in really good shape and I was going to stand out."
About a year ago, though, she gathered her courage and joined a gym, and the weight slowly began to come off. As fitness became more and more a part of her lifestyle, she began making friends in the fitness industry.
Recently she decided that she wanted to meet others who are where she was a year ago.
"I wanted to meet people who want to get in shape but don't like the high-intensity workouts like boot camp, because who wants to do that twice a week?" she said.
She talked to some of her friends in the fitness industry, including fitness instructors, and they agreed to offer free classes to people who want to get in shape outside the gym environment.
"It's for people afraid of the gym or intimidated," she said. "And some people feel like, if you go to the gym, people are going to try to sell you something. And it's for people who want new friends and want to meet other people."
Studies have shown that people who exercise with others get a better result than those who don't.
So the classes may be a better option than trying to work out to exercise videos at home, or planning to jog regularly.
Ray made a Facebook page for the new group, called Fit with Friends, mentioned it on some other community Facebook pages, and handed around some brochures.
The level of interest surprised her, she said.
"I expected it would be a slow process," she said. "But all of a sudden I am getting all these requests to join. It's growing faster than I anticipated."
The first Fit With Friends was a speed walk around Lake Tye. Some people walked around twice, others just once. Then last week the group held a free Zumba class, led by a friend of Ray's, at the pavilion at Lake Tye. About 20 people came, from as far away as Snohomish and Lake Stevens.
You don't have to join a group to join in. All you have to do is show up.
The classes are planned for Mondays and Thursdays at Lake Tye Park at 5:30 p.m. There is no cost, but there is a $5 suggested donation that goes to the American Cancer Society.
And if the weather is lousy, Ray has arranged to use the East County Senior Center.
The classes will be a variety of exercise activities, said Ray.
"It's a community thing," she said. "It's not like I'm in charge of everything. We can go over ideas of what to do next."
She also thinks that it would be fun to plan a couple beginner-level hikes for weekends.
To find out what the group will do next, if weather is affecting the planned activity or what special events are planned, see www.facebook.com/groups/monroefitwithfriends/?fref=ts.