Ray Whitaker, director of elder fitness at the YMCA, sees the link between physical fitness and mental well-being as inextricable. Before launching this chapter of his career in his late 40s, Ray had a significant but nomadic gig as a radio personality. Since moving here in 1999 he has had jobs with Pepsi, Coca Cola, and even worked as a bartender at The Newes. But as soon as he heard about the Island’s new Y, he decided to throw himself into getting certified as a trainer and joining the Y staff.

How did you first get to the Island?
Back in 1993 I answered an ad for WMVY when I was working at a station in New Jersey. I came here and got a job on the air. When I got off-air that first day, I turned around and there was my soon-to-be- wife, Laurel Redington. After we married (some 20 years ago, now), we moved off and did the nomadic radio thing until her father threatened to sell his house in Oak Bluffs. We moved back permanently in 1999 and raised our daughter here.

Then came the odd jobs and finally the Y. How did working with elders and the disabled come about?
I was watching this elder class being taught by a woman who had a lot more experience than I and it seemed to me that it was…not giving the people enough credit to be more physical. When she left, I took over the class. Then another gentleman left who was working with disabled folks and I took over that. I found that both groups have a lot of resilience. They want to be challenged.

Why did you want to work with seniors? 
I just gravitated toward older folks. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve felt an innate connection with them.

What do you focus on in these classes?
A lot of movement, balance mostly, strength training and getting the heart rate up. I just get them to move in ways the body was intended to move because as we get older, we don’t move nearly as much.

Your most satisfying results?
Often people walk in scared, stiff, doubtful that they can do any of this. Then two or three years later, they’re still there, doing great, losing weight. When they feel empowered and safe and no longer intimidated, that is great!

The theme of this issue is “Heart of the Vineyard." What does that mean to you?
My wife, daughter, daughter’s friend, and I were in a terrible auto accident in Virginia a few years ago. We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we received here from people we didn’t even know! I know you can feel community anywhere, but I have never felt it as I did then.

How do you see your future?
I’m going to be here for a while. I think everything happens in its own time and I am just very happy where I am.

Paula Lyons is a former ABC and CBS television consumer journalist who is now semi-retired and lives in Vineyard Haven.