Sassy Sister praises her angel

Published 10:22 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ramona Neal’s life changed after she found her sisterhood at the Suffolk Family YMCA. She took the opportunity to talk about one of her “Sassy Sisters” at the YMCA of South Hampton Roads Annual Dinner held in Norfolk on Feb. 8.

“The things I needed for the most, I found at the YMCA,” Neal said.

Neal, 59, came to Suffolk from Greensboro, N.C., in 2011 for her husband Renwick’s job. Their son and daughter were already grown, and she started spending too much time at home, she said. Her asthma got worse along with her sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that gives her shortness of breath and body aches.

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“It almost got to the point where it was difficult for me to drive,” she said.

Then she got a YMCA membership for her birthday in 2011 and got started immediately. She now rotates between the Suffolk Family YMCA and the YMCA near her place in Chesapeake. For two hours a visit, she takes advantage of cardio machines and free weights, plus classes in water aerobics, yoga and line dancing earlier on.

“Not only is she consistent, but she’s motivating for a lot of people,” said personal trainer Eddy Wright.

But she didn’t just go to the gym to sweat. She also wanted to make new friends in her new city, which is why she got involved in the Y-Change educational support program.

It was in that program that she met the women that would become her “Sassy Sisters.” She had adventures and gave back to the community with the likes of Esther Perry, Juanita Skinner, Samantha Cushing, Renee Hobbs, Pat Blunt, Raquel Nance, Holly Pearsons and Lisa Bollati.

“It was a bond that really made us sisters,” she said.

They enjoyed season passes to Busch Gardens and camping trips out in Chesapeake. They gathered blankets in the winter for those in need, donated to the Genieve Shelter and fed the homeless.

At the YMCA dinner in February, Neal was asked to talk about an “angel” that’s helped her since she came to the YMCA. She had one person in mind: Catherine Matthews, her fellow “Sassy Sisters” founder who died from cancer at age 78 on Dec. 9.

She described Matthews, the mother of Suffolk Family YMCA Executive Director Rick Matthews, as a surrogate mother with a tremendous sense of humor and zest for life.

“You never knew what kind of joke she was going to play,” Neal said with a smile. “She kept you on your toes. She showed you that it’s not about your health issues or your age. It’s about loving life.”

Rick Matthews said his mother found immense relief in the “Sassy Sisters” after his father died. The love they shared was put to good use in their community services.

“That group of ladies meant the world to my mom,” Matthews said.

He also commended Neal for standing up in front of 1,000 people to talk about her angel.

“I knew my mom was looking down from Heaven and cheering,” he said.