By SKEETER TOWER
Special to the OBSERVER
Catherine Pratt, manager at the Darwin Health Club, confides that coordinated fitness clothes are "almost an obsession" for her as she quickly flashes a peek at her color coordinated underwear under her color coordinated top and pants and socks. She definitely models some of the most colorful togs around. "Cat," as she prefers to be called, is quite an inspiration to her multi-generational clientele, who work out in an effort to stay in shape behind her trim and petite body.
Catherine Pratt poses at Darwin’s Health Club, her home away from home.
I was sure when she sported her yellow, five-toe workout foot gloves that she called them "vibrant soles" because that is how we all see her: a true "vibrant soul." But actually, Vibram was the trade name, and yes, they are avant-garde.
She laughingly defines her job as a "fitness guru" but when she gets serious she talks about her philosophy and firmly believes that only a small part of benefits people accomplish is physical. The huge advantage is how people feel about what they are doing. She obviously loves what she does, the good it does others, and she keeps everyone smiling. While she might impact a hundred or more people every day, she is keenly aware that their improved fitness and health reaches out and positively affects many others within their social circle.
Cat keeps her daily senior aerobic classes on their toes. She chooses music according to the age group; seniors move to selections from Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra among others. The Fredonia Senior Center is usually jam-packed with devotees, as many as 51 some days, some of whom have followed her daily for every one of the 11 years she has been leading aerobics. She must know she is loved when 40 "Bless you"s in unison are forthcoming if she sneezes. The age range for the senior group is mid-50s to early 90s!
There is no easy routine. Catherine spices things up and adds variety so that if you are not paying rapt attention, she is off and doing some new fancy footwork before you know it with little ripples of surprise from the group. This is not your average physical work out. It is cognitive training as well as developing muscles so you can keep your balance and pop up from a chair without effort. And it's a social experience. Before and after exercise and break time is chat time and catching up with that friend you missed seeing last week. Announcements for coming events happen, too.
And did I mention entertainment? Yup, funny stories and spontaneous outbreaks of conversation. Like the other day at the Dunkirk Senior Center when Cat was preparing for our sit down weight lifting segment, she blurted out, "Oh, I didn't shave today!" then asked, "Does it get any better, ladies?" (A variety of responses from the ladies).
"Sorry, George, I forget there is a man in the room," she said.
"That's all right," retorts George, "I forgot to shave today, too."
Catherine then asked how many times people reuse a razor blade (various opinions), until someone noted that as long as the blade is dried off it can last forever. (One dare not miss exercise for fear of missing such vital information and genuine belly laughs). One day she cautioned not to bring the weights above the chin only to have a voice from the back ask, "Which chin?"
Her high school bookkeeping teacher joined the class one day and, as he adjusted to the footwork, she encouragingly recalled terminology from his bookkeeping lessons on "assets and liabilities." Another day she brushed a speck of dust from her pants which led to a story about stealthfully hauling some toy trucks out from under her son's bed to give away, knowing he would never miss them since he no longer plays with them. And one day, the class reminded her, she wore to aerobics a pair of shorts given to her son that he had flat-out refused to wear. Spontaneously she demonstrated rapid thumb wiggling and commented that this is what most of the younger generation does for exercise. These stories are a great vicarious cross generational connection. One can only surmise that it is a hoot living in her household.
Maintaining physical fitness is a family value. She is one of the eight children of Betty and Tony Sedota, growing up on Water Street, Fredonia, and now living with her husband and four children just down the street. Her mother joins in at senior aerobics while her father is in the weight room and walking hallways to stay in shape. Her husband is a ski instructor at Cockaigne Ski Area and teaches at Jamestown Community College.
Cat is up at 4 a.m., running 3 to 4 miles each day, rain or shine.(She has run seven marathons!). Sometimes she meets her dad who lives down the street and they go to open the Darwin Health Club at 4:30 a.m. She is the manager at Darwin's where she has worked for the past 21 years. Here you can find her among a vast array of specialized workout equipment, healthy energy snacks, schedules of fitness activities and even observe private training sessions in process.
On the outside wall is a huge check mark with the words "Just Smile!" That will be an easy accomplishment once you get inside and interact with this fun-loving manager.
Catherine has other altruistic interests as well. She collects food for local food pantries, sells daffodils for cancer research, and works with the modified cross country team. She shouts "Good morning" to the maintenance crew at St. Anthony's without even losing her mid-aerobic stride.
Cat welcomes the snowbirds back to the group one by one as they return in the spring. New faces are identified and those who have missed some weeks get called out and welcomed back. She makes it a point to know everyone by name and brings joy into many lives as she builds strong hearts and bodies.
"Tuck it in!" "Step it up!" "Grapevine!" "Cha, cha, cha!" "March in!" "March out!" "Follow the fitness guru!" Yes, quite a vibrant soul, Cat Pratt!