Get in the Swim for Memorial Day

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Editor's note: Just in time for Memorial Day and the opening of swimming pools across America, Mary Hiland writes about the joys of swimming! So read up and enjoy the holiday with a dip in the pool!

Mary in swimming pool

Discovering the Joy of Sports

I have never thought of myself as an athlete. As a little girl, I studied dance and wanted nothing to do with any game involving a ball. then I discovered individual sports, starting with cross country skiing back in 1986. After learning to ski at Ski for Light, I was inspired to try other athletic endeavors, such as bike riding, hiking, ice skating, jogging, and even swimming.

Afraid of the Water

I was terrified of drowning. whenever I was coaxed onto a fishing boat with my husband, I clung to my life jacket the entire time. If they had them for the It’s a small World ride at Disney World, I would have asked for one. But wanting to keep up my core strength and overall health, I decided to try swimming. It’s not only an excellent way to keep in shape, but it doesn’t require certain weather conditions, a guide or any expensive equipment. I soon learned that in addition, it was a wonderful way to unwind, daydream, and even solve problems.

Adaptive Aquatics

One day, at a meeting I had to attend for work, a speaker talked about a program called Adaptive Aquatics. At The Ohio State University, they had swimming lessons and open swimming for anyone with a disability. I worked near campus, so I took the para-transit to the pool twice a week to learn to swim. A student volunteer, usually a physical therapy major was assigned to orient me to the locker room and to the shallow end of the pool. they even had eye hooks installed in the wall near the pool for service animals to be tethered. Ropes with plastic floaters divided the lanes, so if you couldn’t see the lines painted on the floor of the pool, you could stay in your lane by touching those ropes after a couple of strokes to make sure you were swimming down the lane and not in circles.

When I first started, the lanes were 50 meters long, which seemed like miles, but after completing a lap, I felt I had really accomplished something. Then they divided the lanes in half for some reason, and I was disappointed that it was only 25 meters. I knew I had made progress when one day I accidentally jumped into the deep end and came up laughing.

My student teacher very patiently taught me several different strokes, but since I never got the hang of kicking and stroking and breathing all at once, we decided I should just try to perfect my back stroke. That way, I could breathe whenever I wanted, and I could concentrate on improving my style instead of just not drowning.

Swimming at Age 71

These days, I swim at a city aquatic center, where twice a week, they close the pool to the public for an hour and a half and reserve that time for persons with disabilities. I learned about this service from yet another speaker at another meeting. It had been years since I had been to the university pool, since now I was retired, and transportation there and back would take hours. Meanwhile, I learned that my local Red Cross would provide reliable transportation and for free.

Now, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I leave my house at 10:30 and am home by 1:00. I’m in the pool for one hour, warming up by walking back and forth at the shallow end, using hand weights to strengthen my arms and back, and then swimming about ten laps. I count my strokes and even have time to daydream. But if I let my mind wander a little too far, I have been known to konk my head at the end. But I have a pretty hard head, and I don’t swim that fast anyway, so it doesn’t really stop me. I know there is a way to hold your tongue against the roof of your mouth, so that water that splashes into your face doesn’t choke you, but I prefer to use a nose guard. that’s the only equipment I have had to buy, other than a swim suit.

I know I should try to spread the word about this wonderful service to my friends in the blindness community, and to some degree I have. But the selfish side of me luxuriates in having the lane to myself. Occasionally, I have had to share the lane, but then I am just careful to check for that rope with every stroke, so I don’t wander out into the middle of the lane.

Navigating the Pool Area

mary's dog guide at pool

I have trained my dog to take me to a certain place near the steps into the water. I secure her to a bench, and she very patiently waits until I’m done. I’ve been told that she watches my every trip back and forth up and down the lane. When I climb out of the water, I can hear her shake her head and wag her tail which clues me in to how many steps I need to take until I am reunited with her. This city aquatic center is rather small, so it’s easy to navigate, and they do have a family changing room, which I appreciate. trying to change behind a little square of cloth on a tiny bench with a big guide dog is a bit awkward. Because she and I have learned our way around, I need practically no assistance. Sometimes, I feel a little jealous when I hear the other people in the pool laughing and joking around as they do their exercises, but I’m enjoying my solitary workout.

At the YMCA

During the summer, the adaptive swimming program is suspended until the fall, so I try to get rides to my local Y. Although the staff are helpful and friendly, they change shifts, so it’s impossible to get to know any of them. For this reason, I try to find a friend to go with me. She assists me in the locker room and finds a lane for me to use, and then she goes and does her own workout. Because I secure my dog at a bench near where I enter the water, I am able to find her easily when I’m done. she knows the way back to the locker room, and then we’re able to finish independently. I connect her leash to a hook where you are supposed to hang your towel outside the little shower stall. She stands and waits very patiently, but she has been known to poke her head through the curtain to see what I’m doing in there and emerges with a wet head. Then we find our locker again, and by that time, my friend is back. I prefer the small venue of the city pool, mostly because we don’t have to deal with the public, which can be awkward and frustrating, but I’m grateful for the Silver sneakers program at the Y, where it’s free for those of us over 65. There’s no excuse for any of us to grow old and out of shape, whether we can see or not.

Swimming at the Beach

Not since I was a little kid with a little sight have I tried swimming at the beach. I prefer a concrete bottom where there are no critters swimming, slithering, and crawling in the water and no sea weed. Walking on the beach at sunrise or at sunset as the waves caress the shore and tickle my toes sounds like so much fun, but I fear not being able to find my starting place if I’m alone. Maybe one of our readers or one of our peers has some suggestions for enjoying the beach as well.

Read More About Swimming as a Blind or Visually Impaired Person

Swimming Tips

Water Aerobics

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