Water Aerobics

by Mary B. Summerlin

As a retired elementary school teacher, I particularly remember a lesson learned in an early childhood development course. It emphasized the fact that play is the work of the young child. While young children are playing, they are learning. Of course that is true. I had just never thought of it in those words. Well, that lesson has another meaning for me now.

Play is Work!

I go to water aerobics - hopefully 3 times a week. This is a class made up of the senior generation. Most of us are in the 60 to 80 age range, so you can imagine our physiques. Even if we were stunners in our youth, (and I'm sure we all were), we are now fat, out of shape, and scars from all sorts of operations decorate our bodies.

We've had heart operations, knee replacement, hip replacement, pacemakers and on and on. We come to the pool using canes, walkers, and/or human helpers. We limp, go slow, we drag our feet, we shuffle, or we waddle. Some of us are standing tall, some are bent. Some even seem to be untouched by age.

We are a diverse and unsightly crew. But we come and we enjoy and help and support each other. You have no idea how much time, effort, determination and persistence it takes to do this unless you are a senior. But somewhere deep down in each one of us - we know that this play is our work! If we are to keep the old body moving and maybe lose a few pounds, this we have to do. This play is the work of keeping us mentally and physically fit.

I love this scene. One day the leader was giving us directions as she was standing on the side of the pool. One of our group was getting his weights. Oh yes, we have a few men. He is a distinguished looking gentleman but he has scars on his chest, one very long, he shuffles as he walks, and his feet and lower legs are turning blue from circulation problems.

As he walks by the leader and is hearing her directions and the music, he, for a minute becomes the knockout sport he must have been in his younger years. He does a little dance, just enough for us to get a feeling for how light on his feet and graceful a mover he was at one time in his life. He laughs, and shuffles on to the steps of the pool. Ahhh, a glimpse of the memories of a younger more able self still abide in that decrepit body and soul. The courage it takes to keep on moving!

Our life started out with this mantra, Play is work and now it closes with this mantra, Work is play. Our work is to play. We work for an hour. The first 10 minutes or so is warm up time - just to get moving and not shock the body too much. Then we have 30 minutes of active and concentrated cardiac workout. We all get to adjust the movements and speed according to our own individual situation. Some are the jocks and some just sorta swing and sway in the water. The rule is move, move - you gotta keep moving. After the intense workout, we work out with weights for about 15 minutes or so and then we slow down and do stretching exercises before we are finished. Then, everybody is wished a good day and we begin our struggle out of the pool into showers and street clothes (that hide our bodies thank goodness!)

Getting to water aerobics is perhaps the hardest part. Each time it is time to go there are many many reasons why I can't go: something hurts, exercise might make it worse, maybe I should go see the doctor; I didn't sleep last night so I feel terrible; I really need to go see a sick friend; or company is coming I should go grocery shopping. I must tell myself over and over - that water aerobics is my work! I must remember that jumping around in the water is my work. It really is and I must get myself there.

Often after our workout, we go to a nearby restaurant and socialize a bit. Of course, we all order salad. Probably we go home and eat something with many more calories. We compare notes about which diet we're on, does it work or not, our ailments, and which doctors we go see and if they are good or not.

We leave with renewed hope that we are on the right track with diet, exercise and doctor. We meet again at the pool on Wednesday. We complement each other, "I believe you've lost a few pounds," "Oh what a lovely new bathing suit," "I believe you're walking better now." We seem to understand that we all need this encouragement and we give it freely. As Senior Citizens, we've come to know that none of us gets to be this old without traumas in our lives. We all need all the help we can get.

And once again we begin our work. The casual observer thinks that we are playing.

Mary B Summerlin is a storyteller, writer and photographer.
You can see her beautiful work at Mayrie's Photostream on Flickr

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