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Former BAC member gives new LA Fitness a good grade

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Russ Dye was pretty impressed Friday with what he saw at the new LA Fitness in Amherst, and that’s not bad, considering he’s one of those still stung by the sale of the former Buffalo Athletic Club coed fitness centers to the West Coast mega-chain late last year.

“I’m pretty encouraged,” he told me after he hit the free weights and cardio machines for the first time since the new fitness center opened Thursday in the former Circuit City space at Sheridan Drive and Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Group fitness classes started Monday at the club, and will be led by, among others, former instructors at the now-shuttered LA Fitness Boulevard Mall club, a former BAC fitness facility that wasn’t laid out in the chain’s cookie cutter format.

The new club is slightly larger, with more equipment, than the LA Fitness in the Walmart plaza in Clarence. It also has three racquetball courts.

Dye, 61, a retired CSX safety coordinator who lives in East Amherst, said he ran into a few former Eastern Hills Racquet Club members at the new digs over the weekend who left that club when the BAC purchased it and tore out the racquetball courts to make room for other fitness options.

Many of those racquetball enthusiasts left for Bally’s at that time, but about 60 of them look to join LA Fitness as a result of the new courts. “They’re tickled pink,” Dye said.

For more information on the new club and the bumpy transition, you can access some of my previous blog posts here

Among improvements Dye cited from the old BAC days:

  • LA Fitness cardio machines have their own TVs that can be controlled by the user.
  • The racquetball and basketball courts.
  • The lap pool and hot tub.

His wife, Daphne Finnegan, a retired SUNY Buffalo State professor of modern dance, is among women splitting her time these days between the BAC for Women and LA Fitness. She opted to take a month-to-month membership with LA Fitness to keep working out with her favorite group fitness instructor, her husband said.

Dye said he bumped into some of his former BAC friends during his first day at the club, and expects to see more in the coming days. But he knows that former club members have scattered, including women who’ve followed other popular group fitness instructors to the BAC for Women, and seniors who left for the YMCA Buffalo Niagara and other gyms that accept Medicare Advantage fitness club discounts that LA Fitness, at this point, does not.

The shorter lockers, showers that lack soap dishes and relative lack of friendliness of the staff continue to be among his concerns, Dye said.

Dye may have noticed the uneasiness the local staff feels when top managers from the chain come in to deal with such transitions. As a former BAC/current LA Fitness member, I noticed this after the sale of the clubs was announced and, again, in late May, when the Eastern Hills club closed.

Things should improve on the customer service end, but it likely will be impossible for the top-down chain to duplicate the atmosphere of the local BAC clubs.

 “The one thing you got involved with was social groups, and some of that was fractured with the sale,” Dye said.

BAC group fitness instructors were well known for their Christmas parties and other gatherings, including healthy meals out, movies and bowling.

“When people go their separate ways, that’s probably going to go away, to an extent,” Dye said.  

Members will have to make do with the greater variety of fitness options and newer equipment.

The chain also has gone out of its way to add the kind of group fitness classes that the BAC was known for. Whether it will keep all the class schedules in the months and years to come is an open question. Staffers and those who’ve been members in other states have told me the class format isn’t necessarily the chain’s strong suit.

Meanwhile, Dye is willing to continue to give LA Fitness a chance.

“All in all, I would say I’m going to give the new club a pretty good mark,” he said. “I felt I was pretty open minded about the transition, but I’m just a BAC guy.  Do I wish the BAC was back? Obviously I do, but it’s not going to happen.  You’ve got to move on. For what I do (in the gym), I’ll be able to adjust."


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Sunday storm washed out yoga fest, which has been rescheduled

Downpours Sunday morning and afternoon forced organizers of a Canalside yoga festival to reschedule the event to Sept. 14.

“We might adjust the schedule some but it will be the same time, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” key organizer Julie Leatherbarrow, with Budding Tree Yoga for Kids, told me by email this afternoon.

The free Budding Tree Yoga Festival  will feature a wide variety of yoga presentations, workshops and demonstrations, as well as a vendor market, during the rescheduled event.

- Scott Scanlon

State mental health association head to give breakfast talk in Buffalo

Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association of New York State, will talk about mental health, the Affordable Care Act, managed care and other changes on the mental health care landscape from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Life Transitions Center, 1140 Delaware Ave.

To register, click here or contact Kelly Morgan at 886-1242, Ext. 321 or 

Grocery healthy eating tour Tuesday in Orchard Park

Catholic Medical Partners on Tuesday will conduct a grocery tour at Orchard Fresh to help people understand how to shop, and eat, in healthier ways.

The tour will include nutrition tips, information about how to read a food label, food samples and healthy snacks, and a fun scavenger hunt.

The tour is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. at the Tops Markets-affiliated health food store at 4050 N. Buffalo Road in Orchard Park. To register, call 862-2454.

If you feel like you may as well golf in the dark, here's your chance

If you sometimes feel like you may as well play golf in the dark, you’ll have your chance Friday evening – in the name of fun, and to benefit the Aquarium of Niagara.

The annual Putting for Penguins fundraiser, which supports the nonprofit educational attraction and its water-loving residents, starts with registration and 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Newfane Pro-Am course, 2501 N. Main St. (Route 78), Newfane.

A buffet-style dinner begins at 5:45 p.m.; nine holes will be played in a scramble or best ball format. At 9 p.m., there will be raffles, prizes and awards followed by the last half of golf in the dark with Glo-Balls and “light ropes.”

Putting for Penguins chairman is Steve Kling, an aquarium board member. Reporter Ed Drantch, of WIVB-TV, is celebrity chairman. DJ, Pat Proctor will play music to golf by.

Entry fees are $90 per golfer; $360 for a foursome. Party only is $35.

Golfers are asked to register by Monday. Individuals, corporations and businesses can call Claudia O’Neil at 285-3575, Ext. 216 to become a sponsor, donate a prize or for additional information.

If you sign up, aquarium officials advised, “Don’t forget your flashlights and bug spray!”

Make your (yoga) moves at Canalside today

Those interested in learning more about the many aspects of yoga will want to head to Canalside today.

The free Budding Tree Yoga Festival  will feature a wide variety of yoga presentations, workshops and demonstrations from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

It will include kids and family yoga, pre/post natal yoga, Kundalini yoga, yoga-pilates fusion, Vinyasa flow, hoop-dance yoga, Zumba, Bollywood dance, paddle board yoga, laughter yoga, and a workshop on personal and spiritual development.

There will be a vendor market featuring health and wellness products, local art, and the BlueCross BlueShield Healthy Zone van will be on site in the morning with games and toys for the kids.

See the class schedule at

Buffalo Budding Tree Yoga has partnered with the Himalayan Institute and BlueCross Blue Shield of WNY to bring off the festival; Wegmans and Kiddie Corner Day Care also helped with sponsorship, said Budding Tree’s Julie Leatherbarrow.

Yoga instructors Marie Phillips and Monica Zucco will be among the presenters. To read stories I've written about both of them, click here and here, respectively.

- Scott Scanlon

Buffalo's first paddleboard festival takes place today

Jared Callahan, of City of Light Fitness, blazed the Stand Up Paddleboard trail in Buffalo last summer. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

The growing Western New York paddle community will come together at Gallagher Beach today to race - competitvely and in a friendly manner - at the first Annual Buffalo Paddle Festival.

Race registration starts at 9 a.m.; races take place in the morning and kayak, canoe and Stand Up Paddleboard demonstrations and outings take place in the afternoon, before the festival wraps up about 3 p.m.

For more information on the festival, click here.

For a map of Gallagher Beach, click here.

I've had the good fortune during the last year or so to get to know some of the paddling enthusiasts in the region, many of whom will participate in today's event.

To read more about how to plug into kayaking and canoeing in the region, take a look at this WNY Refresh cover story from last summer.

To read more about Stand Up Paddleboarding, read here about Jared Callahan's efforts to launch the sport in Buffalo last summer, and read this weekend's Refresh "In the Field" feature here on Marie Phillips and her new SUP yoga classes at Gallagher Beach and on Grand Island.

Several of the players in today's festival also own businesses, or have begun to play, on the waterfront in the Outer Harbor. Look to these folks to be among those who help shape this part of the city in the coming years. Meanwhile, stop and say hello to them today near NFTA Boat Harbor Park.

- Scott Scanlon

Grand Island mom uses paddleboard yoga to help mend from hip surgery

Donna Phillips, foreground, was among students at Beaver Island State Park last week for the Stand Up Paddleboard yoga class taught by her daughter, Marie, center. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Marie Phillips is impressive when you watch her pull off yoga poses on a Stand Up Paddleboard.

Her mother, Donna Kester Phillips, isn’t too shabby, either.

Two months after right hip replacement surgery, the 63-year-old Niagara University education professor was up on a paddleboard last Friday, running through downward dog, tree and other poses, before crow – a handstand with your knees touching the backs of your elbows – sent her splashing into the inlet off Beaver Island State Park marina.

She got right back on and tried again.

“If I had a pool, I’d put a board in it and practice on a board; you use your muscles differently,” said Donna Phillips, whose daughter is the subject of today’s “In the Field” feature in WNY Refresh.

The elder Phillips has struggled with back issues the last three years, and was just feeling strong enough to resume rowing in Buffalo, like she did years ago, when she was rear-ended in a car crash a few months ago.

The crash shoved her right leg into her hip and tore her labrum, which required surgery. It also caused arthritis, she said. “The only fix then was a hip replacement.”

She also created a blog to share her daily life recovering from such an injury. You can read it here

Her osteopath, Dr. Leonard Kaplan of Amherst, encouraged her to do yoga as she healed.

With help from her daughter, she’s done one better.

“Like Marie pointed out to me before, on land, you tend to lock your joints. ... On the board, you have to go with the water and flow a bit. I’m feeling better because I’m using my muscles more instead of my skeleton.

“The first class I took, I felt these muscles (around my hip) fire up for the first time since my surgery. They had been pretty much dead for a month and a half. Now I’m back.

Mom jokingly calls Thursday SUP yoga classes at Beaver Island “senior citizen day” because she and two friends often come down together. Each has fallen into the water during classes.

She said she’s given up pain injections because of yoga.

Her daughter shares her enthusiasm.

“I used to spend hours in the gym,” Marie Phillips said. “When I found yoga, I felt as complete doing an hour of that as spending 10 hours in the gym.”

Her mother, and grandmother – Helen Marie Kester, who died about 10 years ago – introduced Marie Phillips to yoga.

“I still have my grandmother’s yoga books and her tapes,” the instructor said.

“My mom’s always been active,” she added. “She rowed when she was younger, and I started rowing. She always has encouraged me to be active. I rowed for West Side and I rowed for Nardin. I started when I was 12.

The younger Phillips works with Kevin Koslowski, owner of Buffalo Paddleboard Co., in her new SUP yoga business.

“People sign up through me and he brings the boards,” she said. “If they have a board, they can bring their own board and use that and the classes are cheaper. But he has all the boards, anchors, life jackets. The course is an hour and 15 minutes. It includes a 10-minute warm-up and 10-minute cool down. It costs $30; that includes the rental and the class. It’s $15 if you have your own board. Sign up for the classes, which take place at Gallagher Beach and Beaver Island State Park, at

We’ll be at Gallagher Tuesday mornings at 10, Wednesday evenings at 7; we’re at Beaver Island Thursday mornings at 10, Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m.

“We started off with two classes and the first week they filled up,” she said. “People see the pictures on Facebook and want to try it. We limit it to six people per class. The board we use for yoga have a greater stickiness on them. Kevin’s going to get more boards, so we’ll probably go up to 10.”

Students so far have ranged in age from 17 to 68, Phillips said.

“I would love to do a weeklong camp for girls involving paddelboarding and yoga and SUP yoga,” she said. “The second you stand up on the board, you feel accomplished. Completing a class, no matter what you’ve done – even if you’ve been in child’s pose for most of it – it’s such a sense of accomplishment.”

I told Phillips it seems younger people have become more creative when it comes to building a work life for themselves.

“You have to these days, anywhere in the states,” she said. “You don’t come out of college anymore and get a job automatically, and even the jobs you do get don’t pay enough to support yourself, so you have to be creative. For me, it was finding what I love. It doesn’t even seem like work. I get paid to do what I love.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

SUP yoga instructor will hit the Buffalo waterfront at two weekend festivals

Stand Up Paddleboard instructor Marie Phillips, right, teaches a class last week off the Little Beaver Canoe and Kayak Launch Area at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island, under the watchful eyes of two white heron and several gulls (not pictured) and her Pomeranian, Sophia. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Marie Phillips has had her share of ups and downs, but as she heads into a busy weekend, she feels a strong sense of balance.

A child snowboarding prodigy, Phillips had to give up the sport while out West in college because of a series of injuries. She feels grounded again being back home on Grand Island, after discovering a budding career as a Stand Up Paddleboard yoga instructor.

That’s right. She teaches others how to navigate a series of yoga poses while perched atop surf boards little more than 10 feet long by 2¾ feet wide.

While she does, she shares her board with her 7-year-old Pomeranian, Sophia, and ended a recent class with a headstand and scissors kick.

No kidding.

“If you fight the board – and the water moving underneath you – you’ll make it harder, and you’ll fall in,” Phillips said. “That’s what really drew me towards it. When I was doing the training, it made me realize how practicing on the water felt like life. No matter how grounded you feel on the earth, there’s always movement underneath you. You’re never really stable and secure. You have to feel and move with whatever’s coming at you, instead of fighting it, or it just makes it harder, whatever it is.”

Phillips, 27, a Nardin Academy alum with a bachelor’s in health care studies from Daemen College, figures into two big fitness festivals this weekend: the first annual Buffalo Paddle Festival, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Gallagher Beach; and the Budding Tree Yoga Festival, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at Canalside.

The Saturday festival includes recreational and competitive races. Phillips – certified three years ago to teach Baptiste yoga on dry land, and last summer to teach Stand Up Paddleboard yoga – will lead a SUP yoga workshop at 1 p.m. at the free Sunday festival. She teaches yoga at Evolation on Elmwood Avenue; you can book her SUP yoga classes, which run $15 to $30 an hour, at Gallagher Beach and Beaver Island State Park, at

What are the differences between yoga and Stand Up Paddleboard yoga?

SUP yoga is really easy on the joints because you have to use your muscles. It’s lots of core. When people first see it, it seems scary and hard, but once you get out there and shift your weight side to side on your board, you really feel you are stable. Your body, naturally on the ground, is always moving, stabilizing you to hold you where you are. It’s just exaggerated more out there on the water. When you come back on the ground, on the hard surface, it’s so much easier. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done yoga, never tried paddleboarding. Being on the water makes it even for everybody. Even if you feel you’re a professional at yoga – not being able to use your joints, use compensations in your body you use on the ground – it’s just an amazing feeling.

Does this create a new level of flexibility?

Definitely. It’s physical and mental flexibility. Being in a room is different because you don’t have distractions. You have people around you, you have walls around you, but being out on the water, you have nature. You have birds, lots of distractions around you. Just being able to tell your breath to be an anchor, being able to – no matter what’s going on on your board or in your life – find your breath, gives you such a sense of accomplishment.

What are the benefits?

It brings a whole new meaning to finding peace and stillness. And balance. Balance on your board and off your board. You’re able to really translate how you are on your board in your practice to how you are in your life.

I assume when you started, you were falling more than you probably do now.

There’s a lot of fear around falling and resisting the fall. Once you fall in, you want to keep falling in. You push yourself more. You realize the water isn’t that far away from you. The water feels good when you fall in. It’s refreshing and it brings a whole new sense of play. We’re so serious in our everyday lives.

Is it also a learning experience? You’re not going to get better unless you do fall in taking a risk?

Absolutely. If you stop listening and you think you know what you’re doing and you don’t want to fall in, you’re not going to progress. There’s no lesson in that.

Can you make a living teaching yoga and Stand Up Paddleboard yoga in Buffalo?

Luckily I have a very supportive family that allows me the time to make this my living. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you love it – this is my passion – people see it and are drawn to it. It takes time to build a following.

I plan to do retreats. Jenny, who was one of the students out there (today), we’re doing a retreat in January in Guatemala and we’re going to do one in Costa Rica in February. Ideally, I will be in Buffalo in the summers and traveling and doing retreats throughout the winter months. I love Costa Rica and would love to eventually have a retreat center there … and build my life half the year there and half the year here.

Marie Phillips ended a recent SUP yoga class with this move. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Former Boulevard BAC to close today as LA Fitness opens new club nearby


The former Buffalo Athletic Clubs Boulevard and Eastern Hills malls were quieter after the sale of the coed BAC branches to LA Fitness late last year. The Boulevard Mall club closes today to make way for a new, larger LA Fitness nearby. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

The former Boulevard Mall location of the Buffalo Athletic Club will close at 5 p.m. today as LA Fitness opens a new club in the old Circuit City store on Sheridan Drive at Niagara Falls Boulevard.

The new Amherst club will open at 5 p.m., about the same time the mall club closes, staff and patrons at the location told me this week.

LA Fitness purchased the Boulevard Mall club late last year – as well as all other BAC coed clubs in Western New York aside from a CrossFit club – after it already had plans to create the new location it opens today.

The West Coast chain also plans another club in Hamburg soon, according to sources and its website.

It also owns two clubs in Buffalo and one each in Clarence, Niagara Falls and Orchard Park, as well as three clubs in Rochester.

The new Amherst club will be larger than the Boulevard location and include three racquetball courts, staff and members said.

“I don’t mind the change, but I liked the more intimate atmosphere of the BAC. It was more of a family atmosphere,” said Russ Dye, 61, a retired CSX safety coordinator who lives in East Amherst and has preferred to work out in the more comfortable digs of the Boulevard club since the BAC-LA Fitness sale in late December.

Like Dye, I was a longtime BAC member swept up in the change. You can read several blog posts I wrote during and after the transition here.

I will say that LA Fitness has begun to grow on me since I started visiting the Clarence club earlier this year.

It’s new, I like the “cycling theater” for my spinning classes and it’s nice to soak in the hot tub every once in a while.

I’m old enough to remember the hot tub and racquetball courts at the old Eastern Hills Racquet Club, which morphed into the BAC Eastern Hills and, for a very short time, an LA Fitness outlet.

Predictably, with a brand new club in the Walmart Plaza less than a mile up Transit Road, that club closed in late May.

The change brought growing pains for former BAC coed members:

• Many of the women followed some of their instructors to the BAC for Women.

• Many senior citizens – upset that LA Fitness won’t accept insurance plans that give them free or vastly reduced-cost fitness memberships – flocked to clubs that do, including YMCA Buffalo Niagara branches across the region.

• And numbers dwindled following the sale at Eastern Hills and the Boulevard where, at Eastern Hills in particular, equipment went unrepaired and grass, for long stretches, uncut.

Life isn’t perfect at LA Fitness.  I’m among those who isn’t crazy about trying to stuff work clothes and a gym bag into half-sized lockers, and  the BB-sized pellets of soap that squeeze out of the shower soap dispensers are a testament that the big new fitness player in town chooses to toe a stringent financial line. But things aren’t all bad, either, for the Dyes or me.

Dye’s wife stuck with the BAC for Women, but also has a month-to-month membership at LA Fitness, where she still works out with some of the group fitness instructors she loved at the old BAC Eastern Hills.

The suddenness of the BAC-LA Fitness sales, during the Christmas holidays, left many BAC instructors who opted to stay with LA Fitness wary of their futures.

The good news here: most of these instructors work part-time and hold other jobs; and LA Fitness has added classes and brought just about all of them into other clubs.

The same is expected in the aftermath of today’s club closing. With a larger facility, and another on the horizon in Hamburg, the prospect of more instructors working for the chain soon is growing.

Jenna Ziegler, an Alden high school Spanish teacher and one of my favorite spinning instructors, played “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as her last spinning song in the old Eastern Hills BAC just before it closed several weeks ago. She’s teaching Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings at the LA Fitness Clarence location.

“The bikes are much nicer,” she told me.

Most of my fellow spinning class students from the old Eastern Hills site have followed Ziegler and other instructors to LA Fitness.

Dye is open minded about his impending shift, too, and predicts some of the faces in the LA Fitness clubs in Clarence and on Elmwood Avenue will change as they now have a more favorable location closer to home.

The long-term question: Will the regional fitness market be able to handle the proliferation of so many new clubs, of all shapes and sizes?

Time will tell.


Twitter: @BNrefresh 

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

@BNRefresh |