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Health In The Hayloft | Fall 2007 Out Here Magazine

Marilyn and Doug Schafer’s converted hayloft is a center for fun, exercise, and togetherness for family and friends.

Family takes fitness and fun to new heights

By Dee Goerge
Photography by Robert Hendricks

Marilyn Schafer delights in watching her 75-year-old mother aim a pool cue in a game of bumper pool. Nearby, her husband, Doug, and her sisters compete at table tennis. Twin nephews jab at the air with boxing gloves, while nieces giggle and cling to each other as one rollerblades across the wooden floor.

All this fitness, exercise, and fun is in the unlikeliest of places: the loft of an 78-year-old barn, once filled with loose hay for cows and sheep, that's been in Marilyn's family for three generations.

But after most of their livestock was sold, the Shafers, of Fowler, MI, moved the remaining hay to the barn's smaller loft and began converting this 1,080-square-foot space into a recreation room.

Doug nailed particleboard on the loft walls and installed a basketball hoop. He built steps to replace the vertical ladder, created a safety rail on the loft's edge out of sheep gates topped with old volleyball nets, installed two 400-watt metal halide lights high in the rafters, and strung ropes to open and close the round windows in the gable's peak.

Gradually, old furniture and "toys," most purchased at garage sales, found their way up the loft stairs — a punching bag, weightlifting machine, a dart set, mats, mini-trampolines or rebounders, and a chalkboard.

Though there's an exercise room in their farmhouse, she and Doug like to "play" in the loft, creating their own circuit training workouts. They jump on the rebounder, shoot hoops, and jump rope. It's also a perfect space to make family gatherings and holiday parties casual and more active.

Also, beginning last fall, Marilyn invited seven women, including her sisters and mother, to join her for Ladies' Night Out on Mondays — weather permitting — for fun and fitness.

Marilyn prepares activities suitable for all fitness levels: a favorite is jumping on rebounders while talking and passing a basketball.

For one session, she created an obstacle course that included securing a rope a couple of feet from the floor. Each woman used the rope to pull herself across the barn while lying on her back on a mechanic's creeper.

Marilyn varies background music — country, Celtic, pop — to make the women's activities more enjoyable.

"Women are so busy taking care of others, that they forget how to play," Marilyn explains. "I like to bring out the hula-hoops and jump ropes to bring back childhood fun."

But the barn isn't all fun and games. The Schafers still put up hay for one horse using the hay loader and slings used by Marilyn's grandfather, who built the barn.

Though two hip replacements keep Marilyn's 84-year-old father from shooting hoops or rollerblading, he gets a bit of a workout, too, as he climbs the loft steps to watch his grandchildren play in a barn he watched get built.

"Anything you can have around you to keep you interested and moving is good," Marilyn says. "The barn is just part of it."

Dee Goerge is a Minnesota writer.