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Women's wellness retreat marks 30th year
Women's wellness retreat marks 30th year
By SUE REID
One week that will change your life.
Sounds like a tall order, but Solon resident Boots Freeman has allowed area residents to experience just that since taking part in a women's camp at Hiram House 30 years ago.
Her intent at the time, recalled Ms. Freeman, now 79, was to gather a bunch of girlfriends and make fitness, fun and camaraderie their focus. Simple enough, but what resulted was so much more.
A women's wellness retreat, with health and friendship at its core, will mark its 30th year next month, thanks to the vision established by Ms. Freeman.
"It was just an incredible experience," Ms. Freeman recalled of the women's camp. "I didn't realize it at that time, but it changed my life."
As a result, Ms. Freeman went on to establish her own weeklong women's retreat, which she ran for 25 years. It first began in her Moreland Hills home and now has traveled to a resort in Captiva Island, Fla., where Ms. Freeman had purchased a home in the 1970s. While the location has changed, as well as the fact that Ms. Freeman has turned over the reigns of the program, the meaning behind the weeklong retreat has not.
Ms. Freeman's longtime yoga instructor, Dympna Ferrante, of Auburn Township, has taken over the retreat, and has helped it evolve. A 16-year veteran of the women's wellness-week program, Ms. Ferrante has taken it to the next level. Ms. Freeman calls Ms. Ferrante a "natural heiress to this," while Ms. Ferrante calls her friend and mentor a "visionary."
"I brought my whole yoga philosophy to it in an updated way," Ms. Ferrante said. That included using yoga as a program and a path to take care of oneself as a whole person, not just one's body, she said.
"It's a mind-body-spiritual event that takes place," Ms. Ferrante said. "Mixed in that is all the fun that comes from the women themselves."
This year's retreat will begin the week of Nov. 9. Those interested can call Ms. Ferrante at (440) 543-6684.
At the women's wellness week, participants are not just someone's wife, mother or grandmother, Ms. Ferrante said. "They come back to themselves. They have their own laughter," she said. "It is a full, comprehensive program that puts you on a pathway to wellness."
Women of all ages and walks of life, numbering about 70 each year, take part in the retreat, which features everything from nightly lectures and guest physicians discussing women's issues to embracing health-conscious food prepared by a top chef.
Bainbridge resident Katy Murphy said the wellness week is something every woman should be able to take part in. "It's such an incredible experience," said Ms. Murphy, who will be attending for the sixth time.
"It's really a unique program," she said. "You get so close to the women who are there. "You can really bond, and a lot of lifetime friendships can form."
Moreland Hills resident Susan Renda said she finds exactly what she is looking for at the retreat, whether it's relaxation, gentle exercise or an intense workout.
"The chef is a genius who makes healthy food taste delicious," Ms. Renda said. "The ocean beach is spectacular and you can watch manatees play off the end of the dock in the bay." Captiva Island is the perfect setting for the women's wellness week, Ms. Renda said. There, women are reminded to take care of their bodies and souls, she said.
Ms. Ferrante said the program gives women the latest information possible, on such topics as hormone replacement therapy, menopause or whatever concerns women's health and wellness.
Participants run the gamut of ages, she said. Some are professionals representing a variety of occupations and others are stay-at-home moms, she said. "It's an absolutely interesting dichotomy," Ms. Ferrante said.
Ms. Freeman said the program has had three generations of women. At times, it's a family reunion for some and for others, it's a getaway, she said.
"It's a safe retreat," Ms. Freeman said.
Hunting Valley resident Lilli Harris said she will go to the retreat for the second year. She attended last year as a way to take a break after her daughter's wedding, she said. She didn't know much about the retreat at the time, she said.
Ms. Harris said the whole idea of a mood of sisterhood and a real awakening may sound cliche in relation to the retreat, but it is not.
"This was something so different for me," Ms. Harris said. She said that Ms. Ferrante created an atmosphere "where you had a great feeling about being a woman" and just connected with people. The retreat is not all about the health concept, she said. For example, one evening the women went to a country club and had a dance contest, Ms. Harris said.
"You can do as much or as little as you want," Ms. Murphy said. "It's structured, but no one is pressuring you to do every yoga class."
"I'm a completely different woman from this experience," Ms. Ferrante said. "I went there to work and came home with a whole different view of what it means to be a woman in the world today."
"It did change the way I think about women," Ms. Harris said. "Now, I'm much more interested in doing things with women, and making different kinds of friends."
As for the retreat marking its 30th year, Ms. Freeman said, "It's pretty amazing to me. It was a labor of love that I did one year at a time."
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