90-year-old wakes up Stafford YMCA
By CATHY DYSON
Norman Sedgley gets up in the middle of the night to make the world a safer place.
The 90-year-old arrives at the Massad Family Branch of the Rappahannock Area YMCA between 3:30 and 4 a.m. to get it ready for those who come after him.
Wearing comfortable, thick-soled shoes, he walks through the darkened building, switching on lights and TVs, unlocking storage rooms and studios and picking up towels and trash left behind.
He follows his walk-through with almost an hour in the pool and 150 repetitions on a body-building machine.
Then Sedgley reaps the benefits of getting up at such an ungodly hour.
He sits in the front lobby and holds what’s known as “the love clinic.” Women, young and old, but mostly in Medicare range, practically line up for hugs.
They sit by his side and tell him about their weekends and families, their issues at work and troubles at home.
Sedgley pays his utmost attention to whatever woman is beside him. When one leaves, he greets another, saying, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you for years.”
Staff and patrons alike giggle at the way the white-haired Sedgley simply pats the seat next to him, summoning company–and getting it.
“You see the control he has over women?” joked Melissa Taylor, the YMCA staffer who shares the early-morning hours with Sedgley. “It drives me crazy.”
A man offered a different point of view.
“He’s got all the women,” said Val Folden, a friend who works out with Sedgley. “I just ask for the crumbs.”
A REASON TO GET UP
Sedgley started opening the YMCA on Butler Road about 20 years ago, after he and chief executive Barney Reiley talked. Sedgley said he wouldn’t want his wife or daughter coming into a darkened building at that hour–and didn’t want YMCA users to do it, either
“On some level, it’s almost a sign of chivalry,” Reiley said. “This guy is a throwback, the quintessential gentleman.”
Sedgley started getting up by 2:30 a.m. and heading to Butler Road from his Stafford County home. His services are strictly volunteer.
In the 10 years since his wife, Clara, died, his need to be at the YMCA before dawn has given him a reason to get up every day.
“If I didn’t have something to get up for, it would be awful easy to stay in bed,” he said.
Sedgley greets each person he sees, but clearly lavishes more attention on the ladies.
“Ah, here’s the love of my life,” he said, arms outstretched to Janet Gindlesperger, who wore a purple jogging suit.
“How many times have you said that this morning?” she said, smiling. Then, she mimicked the rest of his spiel, which always includes, “You’re my No. 1.”
When he does talk to men, it’s often to fuss. He asked one man when he was going to shave the scruff off his face and make himself look presentable.
“The ladies are talking about it,” Sedgley joked.
A MAN OF STEEL?
When Sedgley really gets going, with a pep in his step and a smile on his lips, Taylor calls Sedgley “Stormin’ Norman.” Others refer to him as “the mayor of the YMCA,” or the king, holding court for his subjects.
That’s why his friend Folden kneels and pretends to kiss Sedgley’s hand each morning before he leaves the YMCA.
Taylor says Sedgley has slowed down in recent months. She thinks it’s because of recurring respiratory and heart problems, but isn’t certain because he says little about himself.
“He thinks he’s made of steel,” Taylor said. “He’ll never admit anything is wrong with him.”
But like other early birds at the YMCA, she’s come to look for his red Cadillac in the parking lot. It’s always in the first space on the second row, tires backed up into the grass.
Likewise, its driver is usually at the front desk, waiting for her. Once she’s there, he heads to the pool–and always swims in Lane 6.
He typically wears a dress shirt and pants, even when he climbs on a treadmill.
“I’m comfortable in them, and I try to look halfway decent,” he said.
‘UP IN ARMS’ WITHOUT HIM
Sedgley isn’t the only creature of habit. People panic when he and his car are not in their appointed places.
Taylor got so worried about three years ago when she didn’t hear from him, she called 911 after she couldn’t reach him on the phone.
He had suffered a heart attack. He said it was his fault because he’d been eating a lot of junk food.
On the rare occasion when he misses a morning, the YMCA is abuzz with concern.
“If he doesn’t show up, the whole place is up in arms,” said Kayla Knutson, an exercise teacher.
Taylor has threatened to post a sign announcing his whereabouts, just so she doesn’t have to repeat the same story a hundred times.
“When he isn’t here, it’s like we’re in an alternative universe,” Taylor said, “We don’t know what to do.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425