By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — When Kathy Palmieri was a little girl, she used to sit in the bleachers at her brother’s Little League baseball games and cry tears of frustration.
“I wanted to play,” she said.
The school she attended simply didn’t have the resources to make sure sports were available to girls. It just wasn’t a priority.
She didn’t know it then, but that desire to learn about sports and grow as an athlete would follow her well into her 50s, turning her into a lifelong student.
By the time she was in high school, Palmieri had found a way to use her athletic energy by joining the varsity basketball team at Bishop Gibbons High School.
After that, she joined a women’s club softball team, which she quit reluctantly when she became pregnant with her son, Greg, who is now 27. Her daughter, Christine, is 23.
“I like to slide,” she said with a laugh.
Now 56, Palmieri is making up for lost time when it comes to all the sports she wished she’d played as a kid. For the past 15 years, she’s been gradually educating herself about exercise, becoming a perpetual student of physiology.
The latest course in her self-schooling has come from Niskayuna Continuing Education, and Palmieri is a fervent advocate.
Today, Palmieri takes classes in cycling at the Schenectady JCC and Vent Fitness in Niskayuna, and she goes hiking and cycling outdoors when the weather permits. But the class she especially loves to talk about is Niskayuna’s Continuing Education program, where she works on her Pilates form twice weekly on the floor of the high school cafeteria.
It doesn’t sound like a particularly inviting environment, but for Palmieri, it’s all about the other people who show up.
“It’s the exercise, and then the wonderful people you meet,” she said.
Pilates classes start at 4:30 on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, but people show up half an hour early or more so they can catch up with one another.
“It’s not luxurious accommodations,” Palmieri admits. “Every once in a while, you have taco sauce next to your mat, and that’s OK, too.”
Pilates is the latest installation in a series of new athletic adventures. First, she and her husband got into hiking. Then, it was cycling. Seven years ago, Palmieri got hooked on Pilates and hasn’t stopped since.
“Now it is who I am,” she said. “I exercise every day, and not only for the physical.”
Perpetually sunny, Palmieri said getting involved in a variety of sports has shifted her perspective on all sorts of obstacles.
“All our limitations are in our head,” she said. “You should just say, ‘I just haven’t learned yet’ or ‘I’ll try.’ ”
It’s a great attitude for someone with her vocation. Palmieri works with special-education students on a part-time basis for the Niskayuna school district. Before that, she was director of the county youth bureau for 22 years.
Her attitude is, apparently, hereditary. Her son and daughter were both athletic in high school. Greg played travel soccer and Junior Warriors baseball. Christina played softball, soccer and track, but she wasn’t as natural at it — which, in a way, was even more inspiring.
“She was fun to watch,” Palmieri said. “She wasn’t that good, but she never quit.”
Palmieri’s Pilates instructor, Sandra Buchanan, said that a sense of humor is something she always hopes to instill in her students, and Palmieri exemplifies it.
“With Kathy, what is really fun is she works so hard, but she has fun at the same time,” Buchanan said. “She’ll laugh when she can’t do something . . . and I always remind her that that’s what my job is, to make it challenging. So you’re continuing learning.”
Palmieri confirmed it: She’s always up for a challenge.
“The more you do, the more you can do, and the happier you are,” she said.
It’s appropriate that a love of learning is at the heart of a class housed under the “Continuing Education” heading of the Niskayuna School District. Palmieri said most of the students who attend regularly are older than 40, and some are in their 70s or 80s, but the occasional high school student or 20-something stops by for a workout, too.
“They’re wonderful people. They’re so motivating,” Palmieri said.
Which is funny, because that’s exactly what they think of her, too.
“That’s what’s so fun, is she wants to do it, she’s a real inspiration for everybody in the class. She’s so nice and so nonintimidating for everybody, and yet at the same time she really loves to work hard too, which is very fun for a teacher,” Buchanan said.
“She’s kind of like the captain of the team, I would say,” she added.