Getting in the Swim

By this time of year, we’re all longing for sunshine and outdoor activities. My favorite way to spend a sunny morning is to take a long and brisk walk with my dog guide Dora from Seeing Eye. Even better is to have a destination, like a coffee shop, but sometimes just walking a variety of routes around my neighborhood can be relaxing and a good way to sort out problems, work off some irritation, or think of how I want to write the next chapter in my book.

Road Block

But since September of last year, a chronic back problem has prevented me from walking without a great deal of pain. The only exercise Dora has been getting is a game of fetch in the backyard, which requires me to only throw the ball for about 50 times or so or until my arm gets tired. Lately, I have been paying a neighbor boy to walk her for a half hour a few times a week. But what about me? I can’t just sit around all day and gain weight.

Back to the "Y" I Go

Mary in swimming pool

The YMCA is a wonderful place to exercise, take classes, and meet people, especially when you’re old enough to get all this for free with the "Silver Sneakers" program. I went to a fundraiser breakfast yesterday, and I was very impressed with all the other programs that the "Y" offers, like supervising recess play at schools so kids can learn how to be constructive in their leisure activities.

Program Called Diversibilities

I was their speaker representing their program called "Diversibilities." Normally, I scoff at such made up words, but I think this one is pretty good. I talked about how much I benefit from swimming at the "Y." I may not be able to walk without pain, but swimming is easy on the joints and eases tension. Ropes strung from one side of the pool to the other with plastic colorful rings around them divide the lanes and keep me, a totally blind person, from wandering all over the place. It’s a 25-meter lane, and it takes me about 25 strokes with each arm to get from one side to the other. If you are a swimmer, you know that’s not very fast or efficient, but it works for me. It’s important to keep counting, so I don’t bang my head at the end, but even if I do, it doesn’t hurt much because I’m not really going that fast. I do the backstroke only because I never got the hang of breathing sufficiently when I try to do other strokes, and I wear a nose guard to keep water from sloshing into my nose and throat; so it’s really relaxing as well as good exercise that doesn’t hurt. Before I begin swimming though, I use water weights and a noodle to warm up first. The noodle is a styrofoam cylinder that I hold onto or sit on while doing bicycling motions with my legs. Water weights are like barbells that you use to do resistance exercises in the water. These weights are very good for toning your arms and legs.

Getting Help

mary's dog guide at pool

As with just about anything we do as blind individuals, we have to find ways of getting where we want to go and doing the things we love to do. I use the Red Cross community transportation service to get to the "Y," but I understand that this service is not available everywhere. You might want to check in your community. Once I’m there, I’ve found that the staff is very helpful. They aren’t available for taking you around to the weight machines, but the yoga teacher at my "Y" was very cooperative in helping me when I didn’t understand a position or movement. You can pay for swim lessons, and then with a little help in finding an open lane, you can become quite independent as you move around the building. Having a dog guide has been extremely helpful to me because she knows her way around and all I have to do is give her a single word command like "restroom" or "hot tub" or "locker room," and off we go.

Other People at the "Y"

I’m very fortunate to have a group of friends from my church who took turns helping me with getting from one weight machine to another and setting the weights and adjusting the seats, but as I came regularly, the staff began to know me. When I had to quit the weight machines because of my back issues, the women at the front desk took over with helping me learn my way around the locker room and then guiding me to a free lane at the pool. Once I had secured my dog by a bench nearby and I was in the water, I could be completely independent.

On crowded days when it’s necessary to share lanes, the lifeguards always make sure I have a lane to myself. I am a little jealous of the other people who are laughing and talking as they exercise in the pool, but my workout is tranquil and much more intense. But then when I go to the hot tub, I often get into interesting conversations with others. You’d be surprised at what topics we cover, everything from recipes to service dogs. Of course, most conversations begin with a question about my dog, who waits patiently while I let the roiling waters massage my back. Perhaps the most social place at the "Y" is the locker room. Most of the women are very kind, letting me know when a shower is available, or that I’ve dropped something out of my bag or that I’ve left something in my locker. We talk about our grandchildren and our favorite shampoo. It’s a wonderful way to teach sighted people that blind people are not too different from them. Some of the less adventurous ones have watched me swim and compliment me on my good form. And of course, everybody loves Dora. When I’m taking a shower, she never stays behind the curtain like she’s supposed to. She’s always got her head sticking out so people can pet her as they go by. We all pretend that I don’t know that.

When I’m done for the day, my dog guides me to a table and chair in the lobby, and the next thing I know, my friend at the front desk has handed me a cup of coffee, fixed just the way I like it. She doesn’t have time to sit and talk with me, but other ladies from the locker room stop to chat for a minute before they leave, and sometimes a gentleman will stop and admire my dog. As I wait for the Red Cross van to pull up, I am completely immersed in the good feeling I’ve gained by spending my morning at the "Y."

Find Out More

Mary has done a promotional video about her swimming experiences at the YMCA. Watch or check out the transcript below.

Read about swimming tips

Transcript of Mary’s Video on YouTube

Audio of Mary

"I started going to the "Y" about three years ago, and my first love was the pool. And so that was what I was interested in first. And then, I thought I would give the weights a try, and I have a team of four or five people from the church who help me go from one machine to another. And I also tried yoga classes which I really loved. But my first love was the pool."

Audio Description of Video

The YMCA logo and some background music.

Mary speaks while on her rocking chair in her living room. Mary swimming in the pool at the "Y" and using weights.

Audio of Mary

"When I get to the "Y," the gals at the front desk are very, very helpful. One of them in particular, Delilah, will take me back to the locker room, and she likes to go back with us because then she can find a lane for me, which I can’t do independently. You just see people that are my age and older who are being active, keeping their bodies active, and therefore, their brains active. And we are all going to live longer. And we are going to live better in our old age as a result of having this opportunity."

Audio Description of Video

Mary in the lobby of the YMCA speaking to an employee. She is standing in front of a dry erase board announcing the schedules for the Thanksgiving week. There is a screen in the background saying, "Like us on Facebook!" Mary at the front desk with her backpack and dog chatting with three women employees. Then Delilah and Mary are walking through the halls with her dog. Mary swimming in the pool and then in her rocker. Mary sitting by the pool with her hand on her dog’s paws. Mary walking out of the YMCA with her dog. A gentleman holds the door open for her.

Audio of Mary

"It’s not just the exercise, but I have people to talk to, and that’s almost as important as the workout itself."

Audio Description of Video

Mary in her rocker. The camera zooms into her face.

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