When the Sarnia-Lambton YMCA was in COVID-recovery mode, manager Paul Skuza single-handedly pushed a 13,000-kilogram school bus 60 metres across a parking lot to raise money for kid’s camp.
That’s exceptional – and unusual – by any measure. But Paul’s accomplishments go beyond the physical. He’s also proven his exceptional ability to cope well in challenging times.
“The thing that stands out to me is his leadership through the pandemic, which was a very difficult time for us,” says Joe Cebulski, regional manager of the Lambton-Kent YMCA and Paul’s boss.
The Y’s membership was devastated when the building was repeatedly shut down due to COVID restrictions.
For a place that exists to provide physical, mental and spiritual well-being to the community, the pandemic was a disaster.
But Paul’s determination to rebuild every single Y program, using the kind of energy that can push a bus, catapulted membership from zero during the lockdowns to more than 3,300 this spring.
“We’re really grateful to have him here,” said Joe. “Paul brings a high level of care for his staff and the members. We’re really proud of him.”
Paul, 35, has worked 12 years for the YMCA, starting at the Central Y in downtown Toronto, moving to the Oshawa Y for a time, and then coming here five years ago to manager Sarnia’s Y, The Jerry McCaw Family Centre.
He takes fitness seriously and is a certified personal trainer.
When Y programs stopped and started during the pandemic, Paul said the place “didn’t feel like a real Y because we’re supposed to be a hub for the community.”
But recovery has been brisk. Membership has already returned to about 80% of what it was pre-pandemic. “The Y is built around the people it serves,” he said. “Now it feels like we’re back.”
Like everyone, lockdowns gave Paul more free time than usual, despite the fact that he and his wife have a four-year-old and an 18-month-old toddler.
With time on his hands, he picked up his guitar and brushed up on his singing skills, something he hadn’t done a lot of since being part of a heavy rock band called Sledgehammer in his high school and university days.
That’s what prompted him to audition for a part in the Imperial Theatre’s outdoor concert series in 2021. And that’s what drew him to try out for Theatre Sarnia plays once live stage shows resumed.
First, he played William Shakespeare in Something’s Rotten and learned how to tap dance in just nine weeks. Then he won his “dream role” of Gaston in Beauty and The Beast and embraced the role by adding 40 pounds of muscle. And now he is rehearsing for his first title role as Tarzan in Theatre Sarnia’s upcoming production May 5 – 13.
“Who wouldn’t want to be Tarzan? It’s a classic tale and he’s a legendary figure,” laughed Paul who is busy working out for the part and learning to swing onstage as though he’s in a jungle.
“By now, you know I like to have a lot of balls in the air,” he said. “Whether it’s fitness, health, sports, entertainment or theatre, I generally want to do anything that has nice, positive energy.”
“We’re going through a bit of a ‘Skuza-sance’ at the theatre,” said Tarzan director Ian Alexander.
“He takes the effort that actors put into a show to a whole new level.”