Fit for life

Popular fitness coordinator makes exercise contagious

Created date

November 21st, 2018
Fitness Coordinator Melissa Sullivan (left) and Lantern Hill resident Marilee Anderson hit the cardio equipment in Lantern Hill’s on-site fitness center.

Fitness Coordinator Melissa Sullivan (left) and Lantern Hill resident Marilee Anderson hit the cardio equipment in Lantern Hill’s on-site fitness center. Marilee took Sullivan’s classes before they both met again at Lantern Hill.

If you’ve lived in Union County over the past 15 years, you’ve probably heard of Melissa Sullivan one way or another. Before teaching 20 group exercise classes a week at five area gyms, she played competitive sports—tennis, paddle tennis, and golf. 

“I have lived in this area my whole life. At some point, people in the area have come across me,” Sullivan says.

Now area retirees are running into Sullivan for a second, sometimes third or fourth, time at Lantern Hill, Union County’s premier retirement community for active seniors.

As the community’s fitness coordinator, she has developed Lantern Hill’s on-site fitness center program from little participation to 25 classes with an average of 20 people per class.

“The percentage of residents who come into my gym and are working out is unbelievable,” Sullivan says. “We have roughly 400 residents, and just today, I had close to half that number come through my doors.”

Several have taken her classes before. “I actually have quite a few former group exercise students who have moved here and now take my classes at Lantern Hill,” she says.

Merilee Anderson, a former area middle school teacher, recently moved to Lantern Hill and says she’s incredibly happy to have Sullivan at Lantern Hill.

“She is a wonderful, wonderful person,” says Merilee. “She is a godsend, a saint, really.”

Jack of all trades

Sullivan may be relatively new to Lantern Hill, having started in May 2017, but she’s been working out since 1978 and got her first fitness certification 15 years ago. It was for Zumba, a cardio class that combines Latin and international music with dance moves.

Then she added kickboxing to her repertoire, followed by every certification the American Sports and Fitness Association offers besides yoga, including senior fitness, nutrition, personal fitness training, water aerobics, mat science.

“I’m a jack-of-all-trades,” Sullivan laughs.

Those certifications have served her well at Lantern Hill. She’s been able to combine two or three techniques to create senior-friendly classes. “I gear my classes to be something they can do, but it’s a challenge and it’s fun.”

“For example,” she says, “I put together a mat Pilates class that is very ‘yoga-ish.’ It’s about a half hour of stretching.”

In addition to her plethora of certifications, Sullivan says her personal exercise and injury experiences enable her to empathize with her clients. “I’ve had injuries. I’ve had arthritis. I’ve had bursitis,” she says. “I can make a lot of medical referrals to our on-site medical center because I encourage people to not just accept an injury or a ‘bad back.’ Get it looked at.”

Because Lantern Hill’s fitness center, medical center, and rehabilitation are all on site, professionals—like Sullivan, physicians, nurses, and physical therapists—collaborate to create customized, comprehensive health and fitness plans for community members.

One way Sullivan has been able to connect fitness and independence is by adding a balance class.

“We had 175 people come through our once-a-week balance class that we’ve offered for the past year,” she says.

The class has been so popular that Sullivan recently began offering the Erickson Balance Class, a ten-week program offered twice a week for ten students at a time. Participants take a balance test in the beginning to set a baseline.

“At the end of the ten weeks they should see a significant improvement in their balance,” Sullivan says.

What’s new in Bell Pavilion

When Sullivan isn’t teaching classes or giving fitness center orientations to new residents, she’s planning the equipment for the fitness center in Bell Pavilion, Lantern Hill’s new residence building due to open next year.

And she has some big ideas of her own for the new space, which does not have a group exercise room.

“I would love to see more personal training going on, and that particular gym is set up for personal training,” she says.

She’d also like to add even more classes to the already budding schedule. Sound like a lot for one person? She doesn’t do it alone. Several residents have stepped up to teach classes like water aerobics (Charlene Sozansky), tai chi (Annette Sun), meditation (Dr. Valerie Spangenberg), and the ping-pong program (JoAnne Davison).

“You just look at what’s happened in the last year and a half,” Sullivan reflects. “It’s taken off. It’s not the same place it was when I got here.”

“Anyone who knows me over the years has said this is the perfect job for me. I just feel like I’m making people’s lives better,” she adds. “I’ve always tried to do that, and now I have a larger audience that wants the help. I’ve put together something that I see people enjoying and benefiting from every day—and they’re hooked.

“You don’t mind working hard when you know you’re making a difference.”