WALLA WALLA - Some families come together by birth and others come together through circumstance.
Then there are the families born of fear, fight and fat.
It was that kind of family making its way through town early on Monday morning, zigging from Poplar to Alder streets and zagging from Main Street to the YMCA. It's a course traveled four days a week by YMCA instructor Christy Druffel's "Boot Camp," a group of men and women striving to reclaim - or access for the first time - a healthy lifestyle.
It's like "The Biggest Loser" reality TV show, with no cameras or makeup but with a whole lot more reality, according to Druffel, who birthed the class.
This is a first effort of this type for the local Y, and is part of the plan to absorb the initiative put forth by the national YMCA, said Randy Grant, executive director of the Walla Walla facility.
The movement nationally is to re-root the organization to grow in such a way as to serve entire communities, not select groups, he said. "We need to have programs that meet people's needs. If they need to lose weight, if they need to deal with diabetes or deal with the stress of cancer ... We've become a big-box ‘swim and gym' and we need to be more."
His goal for this Y mirrors national standards - that the YMCA become a cornerstone in a healthy community, Grant explained.
So far, four men and two women have joined Boot Camp, raising their hands and saying, "I'm in," Druffel said.
The rules are pretty simple, if losing weight and building muscle is ever simple. In addition to the downtown walks, her group weighs in and submits nutrition information four times a week.
That part is huge, she said. Y volunteer Gilda Paige takes the lists of food intake handed in, puts it all into a nutrition database and lets members know how they are doing for balanced eating.
"She will text them and e-mail them in the evenings and get their information for that day so she can start entering it," Druffel said. "The nutrition part wouldn't happen if it was just me."
The class is also assigned daily homework, extra working out, she added. "Some are doing cardio every day. Some don't have a job, so their job is to lose the weight."
Not everyone, not even most, begin at a place where they can walk every single day, and that's OK, Druffel said. In those cases, folks work out on the appropriate equipment at the gym, then the class joins up at weigh-in, which arrives at 7:15 a.m.
"This isn't a class I'm walking into and saying it's whatever I can do. It's whatever their body can do that day. I had one person who hurt their feet, they couldn't walk, so they did the upper body on the equipment that day.
"The whole thing is to make you comfortable the entire time you're in the class," she said. "That's my goal."
Comfort is not something boot-campers are familiar with. Many have found it hard to get or keep a job and all have weight-related health issues, some deadly.
And everyone began the class with the sort of obesity that causes heads to turn.
Like Joe Smith, who weighed 627 pounds three years ago. He'd always been bigger than most kids, but a love affair with meth took care of that for a while.
That part of his life is over, Smith said, pausing a moment from the morning walk. But kicking the habit meant another relationship with obesity.
He joined Druffel's contingent a month ago and now weighs about 420 pounds. His mind can finally embrace the idea that he won't always be this size, the 25-year-old said. "My goal at the end of this year is to be at 350 pounds."
For Holly Brookshire, 24, the program has added years to her life and given her confidence she never had before, she said back at Druffel's office.
The Portland native heard about the program from her grandmother, Peggy Brookshire who works for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin circulation department.
Peggy offered housing and support to Holly, enabling her to join Druffel's roster three weeks and nine pounds ago.
"I'm so proud of my granddaughter," Peggy said. "Not only is it a blessing to have her here, but it's just so great to be a part of her excitement for getting healthy."
Having family help "carry the load" is a blessing. Since age 13, she tried fad diets to shed weight; none have made a noticeable difference, Holly said. "I didn't go into any of them with the same mind set that I came into this program with. The goal this time is to get healthy and to make healthier choices about my life."
Ideal would be cutting her weight nearly in half, from a beginning point of 281 pounds to 150, she added.
Jerry Smith shakes his head as he looks at the scale, which registers 354 pounds this Monday morning. It's about 20 pounds more than it should show, he said.
"I started a new hot dog business, Big Jerry's, at Third and Main," Smith says. "I've had stress and stress makes me eat. The last two weeks have been rough."
A founding member of Boot Camp, Phillips began his quest for health - for life, he emphasized - in October, tipping the scale at 452 pounds.
Back then, he was at the Y at the prodding of friends, family and his physician, Phillips said. "My doctor said ‘I don't think you'll be here a year from now.' That scared me."
The 39-year-old isn't used to worrying. He's been homeless now and again and he's been in some pickles of his own doing - all over the place, he said. "I have a very wandering spirit."
Phillips was working in an oil field in Wyoming when he grew too fat for the job, he said. "I couldn't walk 100 feet without sitting down. A flight of 10 stairs would get me out of breath."
A return to Walla Walla meant living at the Christian Aid Center. That address brought about two things; prodding from center Director Jason Wicklund to get to the YMCA, plus spiritual, emotional and investment support from Christians, Phillips explained.
Now, not only does he have his Boot Camp family, enough people believed in him that Phillips was able to start that food cart business, he said. Something he would not have had the confidence to do before.
Renewed or fresh confidence has become a benchmark for her clients, Druffel said. With some of the men now 100 pounds or more lighter, she's noticing positive interaction with the community and with other Y members.
"Jerry's come out of his shell, for example. People are talking to staff. And we're such a family," she said.
A rowdy one at that. "We are a very loud group," Brookshire said with a grin. "Sometimes we work out in the gym next to the yoga class. They're trying to focus and we're ... we're loud."
With a little new muscle comes muscle flexing, sometimes at the front desk. If he flirts with "all the pretty ladies" on his way in the door, he will actually weigh less on the scale, John Petray said with a laugh.
The 28-year-old, wearing a shirt stating "Can't Stand Idiots," began the class at 563 pounds. He now weighs 150 pounds less, accomplished in a five-month period. Following the food guide is a big part of that drop, he said.
Which is not so much about deprivation but more about adding in good food while kicking out the bad, Druffel said. "The goal is to eat as normally as they can. Consume the servings you're supposed to."
There is no question the Boot Camp members are happy and surprised at their success, but the bigger shoc
k is the YMCA itself, some say.
"There is some perception in the community ... people think the Y is snooty," Phillips said. "And there is some snootiness."
There is also, however, a wealth of support, he added. "The Y has helped me so much. I'm here on scholarship, I couldn't do this without the Y."
Phillips would like others to get the message, he said. "We need more numbers. We need all the people who don't think this class is for them to come."
He can't say it better himself, Grant conceded. The YMCA must be relevant to the entire area in every way, including class offerings and outreach. "The Y is for everybody. Let's try to deliver that."
For more information about Boot Camp, call 509-525-8863.