In 1978, part-time Captivan Boots Freeman had an idea.
She envisioned a health and fitness getaway that afforded women the opportunity to escape - if only for a week- from the pressing, high-stress demands of careers and family life to take care of themselves and to simply be girls again.
Freeman, who also resides in Solon, Ohio, decided to pursue this dream and she reserved some cabins at the Hiram House Camp in Moreland Hills, Ohio and put together a staff of trained instructors to teach water fitness, yoga and the latest exercise craze, aerobic dancing.
Photo 1: Participants of the annual Women’s Wellness Week at ‘Tween Waters Inn take in the sunset.
Photo 2: Women’s Wellness Week participants take a power walk by the Old Captiva House.
Photo 3: Loretta Nemeth and Donna Hirsch pause for a photograph during a past wellness event.
Fifty women signed up that first year.
"It was a life-changing week for the women. There was nothing quite like this affordable spa in the 1970's," Freeman said.
For the next three years, Freeman's health camp was hugely popular among women in Cleveland, Ohio, as they saw it as an opportunity for an inexpensive get-away close to home.
But Freeman's dream didn't stop there.
While walking the beaches of Captiva, she was newly inspired to transport her annual camp to the as yet underdeveloped stretch of paradise.
She gave the event a new name - The Captiva Fitness Caper - and headquartered the week-long fitness retreat at 'Tween Waters Inn.
The Captiva Fitness Caper blossomed under Freeman's direction, offering 35 sessions over the course of a 25-year period -and Clevelanders were glad to spread the word about this truly unique experience.
Participants of all ages, backgrounds, experience and abilities joined the fun, including celebrities like Gloria Steinem.
It was as though the Caper had provided the women with, not only an opportunity for health and wellness, but a chance to bond as sisters.
"The sense of love, caring and healing power I received from the other women was awesome as I was going through cancer treatments," said Bunny Ginis of Naples, a participant for 20 years.
As the years came and went, so too did various exercise and diet trends.
Freeman recalled that the campers in the 1980's were strictly concerned with losing weight, so jazzercise became a Caper staple and daily food intake - although each meal was healthfully prepared - was restricted to 900 calories.
"When each lady arrived, we'd weigh her and measure the hips and waist. At the end of the program, we'd give prizes to those who lost the most weight and inches," Freeman said.
Since then, attitudes have changed toward healthy living and modern participants are more knowledgeable about proper health and fitness.
Now there's a new generation discovering the benefits of this "girls only" fitness camp.
"I had never been anywhere two times before, but I vowed to myself that I would return after my first visit," said Ginis - and she did, bringing her daughter and daughter-in-law along to celebrate their fortieth birthdays.
Freeman says running the camp for 26 years was definitely "a labor of love," but in 2004, she turned her director's position over to her key staff leader and long-time yoga, Dympna Ferrante of Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
According to Ferrante, who owns a successful yoga practice in Cleveland, assuming control of well-established annual event was a massive undertaking, but with Freeman has remained on board to act as Ferrante's mentor.
The program's new name, Women's Wellness Week, reflects Ferrante's philosophy that "wellness is not only for the body, but also for the mind, emotional heart, and spirit."
While mixing strength, flexibility and cardiovascular conditioning, Ferrante and her staff provide a well-rounded program that includes PIlates, muscle toning, aerobics, yoga and Tai Chi.
In addition to exercise, Ferrante has also paid close attention to another essential factor in weight loss: diet.
"We are much more aware of the importance of eating high quality foods that are not processed and free of chemicals, hormones, preservatives and artificial ingredients which accelerate the aging process and create disease," she said.
Ferrante also says that keeping participants up to date on the latest information regarding health and wellness is a critical part of the program, so at this year's event, Dr. Tanya Edwards, director of Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, will present two evening programs.
"The fitness classes, expert speakers, wonderful food and beautiful surroundings are put in place for our benefit," said 15-year camp veteran Ann Marie Zaller of Beachwood, Ohio, noting that she appreciates the care with which the program is designed for participants of all ages and physical abilities.
Zaller, like many other participants, is also passing on the joys of Wellness Week to her daughters.
Katy Zaller Murphy, a busy mom of twin 13-year-old girls in Bainbridge, Ohio, said, "It's so important to find a way to do something for ourselves. I spend so much time taking care of others all year; this is my week to take care of me."
Though the program has gone by a few different names over the years, the mission is and will always be the same: to educate and emphasize to women the benefits of health, fitness, rejuvenation, relaxation and, perhaps above all else, friendship.
The Women's Wellness Week will return to the shores of Captiva in November.
For more information about Women's Wellness Week, contact director Dympna Ferrante 440-543-6684 or visit www.womenswellnessweekcaptiva.com.