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Retiree returns to active lifestyle after heart surgery

Instructor Ned McNamara, who had quadruple bypass surgery

Instructor Ned McNamara, who had quadruple bypass surgery in 2015, offers pointers to his yoga class at the Spokane Valley YMCA. Credit: Instructor Ned McNamara, who had quadruple bypass surgery in 2015, offers pointers to his yoga class at the Spokane Valley YMCA.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Fit and trim, Ned McNamara uses a gentle voice while naming yoga poses for a midday class he teaches at a YMCA.

Wearing black-rimmed glasses, a black T-shirt and athletic pants, McNamara appears much younger than his 69 years. He holds the yoga poses with ease but stops on occasion to check postures among his 18 students, a mix of men and women of various ages.

“Let gravity be your friend,” he told a recent class, as relaxing music played in the darkened studio. “Continuing to breathe out through the nose . . . a cleansing, centering breath.”

A certified personal trainer, McNamara could be described as the epitome of an active retiree. He teaches yoga and fitness classes for the YMCA and the ACT 2 program of Community Colleges of Spokane, volunteers for search-and-rescue activities, and teaches rescue skills.

He’s also a runner, swimmer, former triathlete, and operator of a home-based business, NrG Fitness.

And in 2015, he had quadruple bypass surgery.

“With me, it was hereditary; it wasn’t my diet or fitness level,” said McNamara, who had noticed symptoms such as shortness of breath in the preceding months.

“Both my parents died of heart attacks. I never had a heart attack, and my heart wasn’t damaged, but the major arteries were 95 percent-plus blocked. I was on the edge of having a major heart attack. I was a walking dead guy.”

McNamara said he at first mistook tightening and burning in the chest as a sign he’d let his own fitness slip and needed to work out more.

The danger didn’t click until he had coffee with a friend, one of his students, and that friend’s wife, a doctor. Upon hearing McNamara describe his symptoms, they immediately helped him book an appointment with heart experts.

“Actually, I had the symptoms for about nine months. I got chided a little bit by doctors who said, ‘What would you think if you found someone in the backcountry who described these symptoms?’ ”

After his surgery Sept. 2, 2015 and recovery, doctors granted him 100 percent return to doing full cardiovascular workouts. “I’ve gone back to climbing mountains, teaching, doing all the cardio work I did before,” he said.

In 2013, McNamara and his wife Catherine, 69, chose to move to Spokane from Colorado for their retirement years, in part because of this region’s lower cost-of-living and outdoor activities, he said.

Another part of Spokane’s draw was its residents, said McNamara, who describes himself as a people person. Before retirement, he helped run a company, Woodhouse Timberframe, a builder of custom luxury log and timber-framed homes.

When Spokane came up as a possible retirement destination for the couple, his wife connected with real estate agents here, and McNamara suggested they visit as well.

McNamara eventually helped remodel the Spokane Valley home they purchased. It includes a small studio where he offers personal fitness training and individual yoga sessions. He said Spokane even reminds him somewhat of New England, where the U.S. Air Force veteran was raised in a little town near Plymouth, Massachusetts. His career took him across the United States and internationally, so he traveled frequently, but he always found time for regular workouts.

“I only stayed places where I could run,” he said. “I’ve always taken care of myself; never been out of shape.”

After moving to Spokane, McNamara saw a booth for Spokane County Sheriff’s Office volunteers at the Bighorn Outdoor Adventure Show. At first, he helped with sheriff incident responses, until he joined the volunteer-based Spokane County Search and Rescue (SAR) three years ago.

“We run an academy once a year for new recruits who want to be part of search and rescue,” McNamara said. “We learn all kinds of survival skills, rescue skills, first aid. People need to be fit.”

“When I came across SAR, I thought that’s where I belong. I love the outdoors. I’m not a person who sits back. I get involved.”

McNamara is now SAR council president and serves on three teams — its swift water rescue, mountain rescue, and Inland Northwest Search and Rescue specializing in mountain and technical rope rescues.

Additionally, McNamara volunteers as an instructor for the search-and-rescue group’s academy, teaching skills ranging from building survival shelters to navigation. He also volunteers at church, Valley Real Life, as acting director of security.

While living in Colorado, McNamara completed several triathlons, and that’s when people first began asking him for fitness advice. Ten years ago, he became a certified personal trainer after completing requirements of the American Council on Exercise.

“I was working with a couple of city cops in Denver because they wanted to train for triathlons, or general fitness,” he said. “One of them said, ‘Why don’t you get certified and start charging?’ I said, ‘I just like helping people,’ but the seed got planted.”

In part, his yoga focus began on a business trip. At an airport gift store, he bought a yoga book, but it sat unread for months. Later, he saw a newspaper ad for a yoga class in his hometown.

“I went, and I loved it,” McNamara said.“ I have a passion for it,” he said. “If a doctor told me I could only do one thing to take care of myself, it would be yoga, no question. . . . With yoga, it’s a strengthening process. It’s all about breathing and breath-as-life energy. You’re providing your body with a lot of oxygen, and you gain a lot more range of motion and flexibility . . . What we tend to do is shallow breathing. With yoga, it’s more diaphragmatic breath.”

He learned how to say yoga terms in the ancient Hindu language, Sanskrit, which he recites in classes after saying them first in English. McNamara tries to teach yoga skills to all ability levels.

“I have a lot of senior clients, but also young people,” he said. “I teach more to ability than to age.”

Yoga also provides a very calming experience, he said.

“It allows people to totally relax and decompress, and a person will sleep better,” McNamara said. “Stress is a killer. The deeper a person becomes in the yoga discipline, with breathing and stretching, that goes away.”

Providing fitness training isn’t high-paying, McNamara said, but that’s not why he does it. He described his reward as coming from seeing transition and growth in clients.

After the recent yoga class, McNamara chatted with several people heading out. He enjoys that too.

“I love people,” he said. “If you genuinely care for people, it comes back to you tenfold.”

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