By Samantha Gould, MCC communications assistant
Holly Cook continually finds support and camaraderie while using the pool at Montcalm Community College.
Cook, 66, has used the college’s NCAA-sized swimming pool, which is on the Sidney campus, for more than eight years. She attends the water aerobics class most Monday and Wednesday mornings, often after utilizing the college’s fitness center. She also joins close friends on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for various cardio routines and strength training, which supplements workouts at Snap Fitness of Greenville. She attends a cardio drumming class twice a week in Lakeview, too.
“Of course the foundation for working out is to stay healthy, especially as I get older, but the camaraderie is such an important part of exercise,” Cook said. “That’s been a struggle for me since my biggest exercise buddy, Gisela Peek, passed away.
“Gisela enjoyed the water aerobics so much, and talked me into coming to class, too, so I started working out at MCC with her and her husband, Ron. We worked out together at MCC for a number of years,” she said.
Gisela was killed in a car accident in April 2017.
“It’s been very difficult coming back to MCC’s pool, Snap Fitness and especially our Tuesday and Thursday morning workouts without her there,” Cook said. “She and I worked out together Monday through Friday, and were often together on Saturday mornings as well. It’s been hard to maintain the routine without her. So for now, when I’m at MCC, I workout in the pool with a variety of people I’ve reconnected with and others I’ve recently met.”
Cook said the tragedy has brought her various groups of friends closer together.
“Everyone in the pool was impacted by Gisela’s death and we’ve all felt the loss of her. I think it has helped the entire group to continue to be together,” she said.
“We are trying to find a new normal,” she added. “After Gisela’s death, our Tuesday and Thursday friend group spent our first days together crying and hugging over and over. Since then, we do some of the same workouts and we’ve tried new ones. We remind each other that Gisela would kick us in the behind if we didn’t stay active, and so we do.”
MCC Lifeguard Hanna Bengel, of Stanton, sees each pool group connect every morning.
“Each class is its own group,” Bengel said. “You can tell they’re all friends. They all look out for one another, keep one another accountable with their workouts, they know about one another’s lives and know when someone is missing.”
Ronald Peek, of Greenville, said everyone in the group is supportive through this difficult time.
“Physical exercise keeps me moving and helps with my arthritis, but most of it is about the mental aspect of getting out of the house and maintaining a routine,” he said. “Doing things like swimming and working out in the gym at MCC helps keep me in a circle of friends I’m comfortable with.
“Gisela and I were married for 51 years,” he added. “Her death turned my world upside-down. It helps to maintain continuity and to be with the people who support me. Support is so important.”
Sandy Warner, of Greenville, agrees that a community filled with support is necessary.
“At first it was all tears, but now it’s all happy memories,” Warner said. “It helps because we keep talking about her. It’s important to remember the positives about her because she was always so positive and loved life.”
“If possible, we all hold each other more closely, treasure our time together and remain forever close in heart,” Cook added.
Cook resides in Trufant with her husband of 43 years, Kevin. They have two children and three grandchildren.