January 13, 2004
Cortney L. Hill
Many people struggling with multiple sclerosis also struggle to get around. Many who come to the Hurley Family YMCA depend on a walker or wheelchair for mobility.
But once they get in the pool at the Y on Jake Alexander Boulevard, the support of the water enables them to do many more things they would never dream of on land.
And that helps them resist the disease that is crippling their bodies.
Though other Y branches, such as the South Rowan Y, participate in a multiple sclerosis support group, the Hurley Family Y is the only Rowan branch that offers MS pool classes.
Richard Reinholz, fitness director at the South Y, said the facility offers a no-impact water aerobics course for those with MS and arthritis on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 a.m.
"We've been offering this MSclass since we opened a year ago," said Barbara Causey, a certified MSinstructor at the Hurley Y. "With this new building, we are able to reach those who are medically challenged that we couldn't reach at the old Yon Fulton Street."
Those who may have trouble stepping down into the pool can use the pool's chair lift, and the Y also has dressing rooms and showers that accommodate the medically challenged.
MSclasses are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to noon in the cooler water pool of the Y's aquatic center. You must be a Y member to participate.
"It's best that they not work out in warmer water because it can aggravate their conditions," Causey said.
"And the heat makes us weaker, too," said Connie Summer, a member of the class.
Exercise is important for people with MS, Causey said.
Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling, disease that randomly attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness or tingling in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision.
Though the MS class is an aerobic class, its structure is different from traditional aerobics.
"We don't work all the body parts like a traditional aerobics class would,"Causey said. "The class is broken up into two parts. The first half of class, the instructor works the upper body, and the lower half of the body is worked during the second half of the class. This is so the other part of the body can rest."
Although almost every member in the class has some other illness to deal with, all of them incorporate weight training in their weekly workout.
Janice Havener, a YMCA MS class member, said her first symptoms began when she was in seventh grade.
"I had Bell's Palsy where part of my face would be paralyzed, and Ihad trouble with my eyes," Havener said. "I also fell a lot, not that Iwas clumsy, but I just couldn't keep my balance."
Havener was 28 when doctors diagnosed her with MS. Shortly after that, she had to begin using a wheelchair.
"But I can still drive, and Ican mop my house,"she said. "It hasn't hindered me too much."
Summer was an avid tennis player until she was diagnosed with MS 26 years ago.
At the time, Summer was a teacher. "I first had symptoms when I was 23 years old. Iknew something was wrong whenever I'd be passing out assignments, and next thing I know, they'd fall out of my hand, and Iwouldn't even have known it, "she said. "But back then, doctors didn't know what it was or how to treat it."
Summer said she was told to go back for checkups every six months.
"Ifelt like a hypochondriac because there was always something else wrong with me,"she said. "... I felt like I was teaching them instead of them teaching me."
Lola Walker, another certified MS instructor who was diagnosed with MS 21 years ago, said they told her to just eat right and get plenty of rest.
"There was nothing medically they could do," Walker said.
"Oh, and they told me to get 15 minutes of rest in the morning and 15 minutes of rest in the afternoon," Summer added. "Iwas a teacher, a wife and had (children) to raise. How was I going to get any rest?"
MS sufferers say the classes offer equally important emotional support along with physical conditioning.
Betty Stafford, who is one of the first members to join the class, said her self-esteem has increased since she's been taking the class.
"You just feel more human, more normal, and you have a better mental attitude," said Stafford, who was diagnosed 12 years ago.She danced for 26 years."Some people think they can't do well in large crowds or they're embarrassed because of how they walk. But I encourage them to get out and get involved.
"I love this class because it not only helps you get the exercise you need, but the people in the class understand the other person because they're going through the same thing."
"We're like family in here," Summer said. "We check on one another, and we call each other at home, too."
Terry Carter, one of the few men in the class, joined not long ago. He was diagnosed with MS six months ago.
"This class has helped me find out what I can do and what I can't do," he said. "I don't feel uncomfortable about being one of few men in the class. I think the reason why many men don't take it is because of their ego."
Carter admits he didn't want to join the class at first but is now glad he did.
"We are happy to be able to meet medically challenged people's needs. That's why Iinvite many people with MS to come and be our guest,"Causey said. "God wants us to be at our best. And it's not about who you are, what you're wearing or what you look like; it's about your heart, and our job is to carry out our Christian mission ..."
The class has about seven members, and the average age is 48. But there is no age restriction.
For more information about the MS pool classes at the Hurley Y, call Causey at 704-636-0111.
Havener is head of the Salisbury-Rowan Self Help group for MS. The group meets every third Thursday at 7 p.m. at Carillon Assisted Living. For more information, call Havener at 704-636-6158.
There's also a self-help group for those newly diagnosed with MS or
who are minimally disabled because of MS. To find out more, call Shelly
DiDonato at 704-279-7121.
Copyright © 2004, Post Publishing Company, Inc.