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Now an active retiree, man’s heart diagnosis ultimately saves his live

Ned McNamara, center, leads a yoga class at the Spokane Valley YMCA. He also teaches at Touchmark and is very involved as a search and rescue volunteer. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Ned McNamara, center, leads a yoga class at the Spokane Valley YMCA. He also teaches at Touchmark and is very involved as a search and rescue volunteer. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Fit and trim, Ned McNamara uses a gentle voice while naming yoga poses for a midday class he teaches at the Spokane Valley 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 the Dec. 15 class, as relaxing music played in the darkened studio. “Continuing to breath, out through the nose … a cleansing, centering breath.”

A certified personal trainer, McNamara could be described as the epitome of 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 just over a year ago, 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 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 Spokane heart experts.

“Here I am in Spokane, one of the heart centers of the world, so I ended up with the absolute best doctors at Sacred Heart because of people in my class,” he said. “I got right in when they scheduled the stress test.”

“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, doctors by the following Oct. 26 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.

McNamara and his wife Catherine, 69, deliberately chose Spokane in 2013 to move from Colorado for their retirement years, in part because of this region’s lower cost-of-living and outdoor activities, he said. He also likes to ski and has season passes at 49 Degrees North.

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.

“Everyone we met and talked to was friendly, warm, and welcoming,” he said. “I’m an outdoorsy guy. I love the climate here. I like to ski. There’s culture, shows at the INB.”

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 U.S. 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 separate teams — its swift water rescue, mountain rescue, and Inland Northwest Search and Rescue specializing in mountain and technical rope rescues (formerly Spokane Mountaineers).

Among volunteer search and rescue missions so far, he participated in a search for an autistic child who disappeared at night in the South Hill area. Another call sent him and searchers looking for an older man with dementia in Spokane. Both resulted in individuals found safely.

“We were out in Liberty Lake looking for half a dozen teenagers lost up the hill,” McNamara said. “They were fine. Everything we’ve done that I’ve been involved with has been successful.”

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. He decided to include yoga for opening a home fitness studio in Colorado, so he worked a few years to gain YogaFit certification.

“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. I teach Ashtanga yoga; it flows and you’re constantly connecting dots.”

“What we tend to do is shallow breathing. With yoga, it’s more diaphragmatic breath. It’s deeper belly breathing, and it supplies the body with more oxygen.”

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. I have advanced students, beginning students and everyone in between.”

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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