At the start of the summer semester, one of my good friends who is in a wheelchair due to a Muscular Dystrophy contacted me and we decided to go swimming every week together. Because of her physical limitations, swimming is something she can be on the same level as other able-bodied folk on. I feel the exact same way. I don’t need my eyes to swim! We had tried to do this a few times a few semesters ago but it didn’t quite work out.. but now we’re really working hard to make it work. We do get a lot of stares, but who cares? We are improving our health, our fitness, breaking barriers, shattering others perceptions, and having a great time doing it. Makiko sits on the side of the pool and is tied to my friend’s wheelchair. Then when we are done working out, we go shower and she just sits right outside my shower, and then while I’m getting ready I let her walk around a bit, but she just stays right by me. It is a LOT of fun. Soon two of our good friends will be joining us and I can’t wait to be with these lovely ladies. As a sidenote, I’m sure we will get a lot more stares but really, it’s just them learning and not knowing that individuals with different abilities CAN do these types of things. A wonderful lady who has both her legs amputated and uses prosthetics is going to start coming, as well as another lady who is blind and has a guide dog. Woo hoo!
I will say that it is quite amusing to see the Recreation Center staff try and setup my friend’s chair lift. It is a water powered lift. Basically, she transfers from her wheelchair into the chair and then turns this little lever and it turns her in a half circle and lowers her into the water. Then when she is ready to get out, the chair is right there waiting for her and she sits in it, turns the lever and it turns in a half circle and raises her back up and then she transfers her into her chair. Remember, some individuals who are in wheelchairs CAN walk, my friend sure can. But there is a high risk for falling and if she were to fall walking down the steps, especially because there is the added challenge of water, she could seriously injure herself and she doesn’t have the strength to catch herself like individuals without mobility impairments do. It’s a really cool piece of technology. You can tell the staff there is either a little rusty on it or they haven’t ever done it. Last time we went it took six people to set it up. But they are learning, and that is what is really important.
I have gone to the gym a few times to use the actual equipment. One of the Assistant Directors there took me down a whole row of machines and showed me machine by machine how to use it and what it works out. She then took me to the mat and showed me a few things I can do there or at home. That really was wonderful that she took the time to do this. However, it still is kind of intimidating because there is a visual aspect to some of it and I have injured myself on equipment before when I didn’t know exactly how something worked. I will still go, but that part is taking a little more courage. Swimming, however, doesn’t take eyesight at all. Once I get in that lane, I have equal ability as my peers. The lane markers keep me inside the lane and my hand usually hits the wall before anything else. I do sometimes use what little vision I have left to identify something that will tell me when I am getting closer to the edge but that’s not necessary. I used to LOVE swimming, still do. I use to be on the swim team but just over the years I have had different priorities than working out. It is great to have it as a priority again, great to be back in the water, and great to have friends that are encouraging and pushing me along the way.