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Never say never

Less than a year after a traumatic experience in a lap pool prompted me to swear off all water activities except showering, I find myself immersed in aqua therapy. It isn’t that I had a change of heart; it’s that I developed arthritis, as have many of you.

My friend Tem, who is certified to teach aqua arthritis classes, was eager to get me in the water under her tutelage. This worried me, and rightly so. She quickly decided my therapists were way too easy on me. “They don’t know what you’re capable of doing, but I do,” she said, and explained how she had researched aqua therapy for Parkinson’s and arthritis, and developed a program that would meet my specific needs.

A chill ran down my spine despite the 98-degree water temperature.

We begin by walking in the pool — forward, backwards, and sideways, while exaggerating heel – toe and toe – heel movements and arm swinging. Next Tem dragged an aerobic step into the pool. Much too easy, she immediately concluded. I wasn’t in pain nor in danger of drowning. She stacked a second step on top of the first. We climbed on and off one leg at a time, straddling the step to get a good groin stretch. Then I jumped on and off with both feet.

Next come hamstring stretches, requiring I stand on one leg and extend the other up and out until it touches the railing just below the top edge of the pool and my knee is as flat as possible. “Can you feel a strong stretch all the way up the back of your leg?” Tem asks. “No, I lost feeling in that leg 10 minutes ago,” I answer.


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Showing no mercy, Tem told me to swim out to the parallel bars submerged in the deep end of the pool. This area is like the Bermuda Triangle only instead of disappearing, I float as if I were in the Dead Sea. Tem can’t stop laughing. “Keep your butt down,” she commands, pushing on it until I’m upright. Her gentle touch submerges my head and I come up gasping for air with water shooting out my nose.

“You won’t drown,” Tem assured me. “I have a life saving certificate.”

“That speaks to your ability, not your motivation,” I answered. “You would have to want to save me, which you wouldn’t be inclined to do unless you believed I was giving 110%.”

The truth is Tem has helped me make incredible progress in a very short time in terms of increased range of motion, strength, and flexibility; reduced stiffness and pain; and improved posture. Everyone with a chronic illness needs a friend or relative to give us a jump when our battery runs down and encourage us to keep fighting.

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