Stories to Inspire
by Sarah Masino
WHY I SWIM
During December 2013, MSAA held a nationwide call for entries for the Swim for MS – Why I Swim campaign through a collaborative sponsorship with Genzyme. Individuals with MS who swim or participate in water-based exercise as part of their wellness plan were asked to share their personal story about how these water activities made a positive impact on their lives.
We received amazing stories from all over the country from people who had just started to get into the pool, and from people who had been swimming for years. Today, MSAA is excited to share three of these inspirational stories featuring individuals in various stages of the MS journey, all of whom have discovered the numerous benefits from being in the water.
Mary from Harleysville, Pennsylvania was diagnosed with relapsing- remitting MS 20 years ago. Frightened and mad, Mary wasn’t sure she was ready for the challenges she would have to face. When it became necessary for her to stop working due to her MS symptoms, Mary decided this was the opportunity for her to focus on herself and her well-being. She slept more, rested when she needed to, ate better, and continued to see her doctors regularly. She also began to exercise. At her local YMCA, she first began with a water-walking program, and as she became more confident and stronger in the water, she graduated to a water-aerobics class.
Mary is actively involved in the MS and swimming communities. She even championed to have her pool hold an MS-specific water class and install a chairlift for individuals with MS who may be just starting out in the water.
Mary is thrilled to feel and see the physical benefits she derives from her water-aerobics classes. She never felt like a muscular person before, but being in the pool several times a week has increased her strength. She marvels at what her body can do in the water. Mary performs things that she wouldn’t even dream of trying on land, like standing on one foot or even dancing!
Beyond the physical benefits, Mary treasures the friendships that she has gained through her time at the pool. “Sometimes I forget that I’m doing something that’s good for me. I’m just having fun with friends.”
Mandy Iris from Flagstaff, Arizona was diagnosed with MS two years ago, at just 24 years of age. As a registered nurse, she understood her early symptoms could be the sign of a serious neurological condition. At such a young age, she was crushed by the news, but was determined to “keep looking forward.”
Within months of her diagnosis, Mandy Iris had to deal with another crushing blow – the devastating and sudden loss of her mother to cancer. Grieving the loss of her mother and the loss of the life she had dreamt for herself prior to her diagnosis, she found herself looking for an appropriate outlet for her emotions. So she started swimming.
When she first began swimming, she found getting in the pool and just swimming laps to be difficult and boring, but she stuck with it and now knows that she can’t live without it. For Mandy Iris, the pool is a place for meditation and self-reflection; a place where she can feel free to be herself and work out anything that is bothering her.
“I can swim as angry as I want. I can be as sad as I want. It all just seems to melt away every time I jump in the pool.”
Mandy Iris currently swims one mile every other day as part of her wellness plan. Swimming has helped increase her strength so she can enjoy other activities, such as biking and running. She has also felt an improvement in other symptoms, including depression.
Mandy Iris is also an active supporter and fundraiser for the MS community. She has participated in MSAA’s Swim for MS fundraiser and other activities.
Asheville, North Carolina
Ginny of Asheville, North Carolina has secondary-progressive MS. When she was first diagnosed 26 years ago, she was advised by her doctors to not push herself and go easy with exercise. But not exerting herself wasn’t an option for Ginny. An avid long-distance runner, mountain climber, backpacker, and kayaker, Ginny knew there was no way she was going to let her disease dictate how she was going to live her life.
Today, Ginny is aided by the use of a walker, and she is fully committed to her wellness plan. This includes daily exercise, a nutritious diet, and a positive attitude. When she first got into her exercise program, she was hoping only to be able to increase her strength for better mobility and stamina, but she found it far surpassed that. She is now fully energized to be able to work at the job of her dreams and has more energy and stamina than most of her able-bodied friends.
“When I walk from the locker room to the pool deck, I actually say these words to myself – that swimming has brought me… joy, clarity, oxygen, endorphins, freedom.”
Ginny’s current exercise routine includes swimming laps for an hour, lifting weights and stretching. But she didn’t start at this level. When she first began swimming, she could only swim five minutes and was unable to really kick her legs properly, but she was determined to keep trying. Over time, Ginny developed her own strokes and style of kicking that work for her – while also working to increase her strength. Ginny is now a nationally certified personal-fitness trainer and is proud to share her skills and inspiration with others.
The Swim for MS – Why I Swim campaign is part of a larger effort from MSAA and Genzyme, a Sanofi company to raise awareness and understanding of aquatic exercise as a positive wellness opportunity for the MS community.
“At Genzyme, we are driven by our unwavering commitment to the patient communities that we serve,” said Carole Huntsman, VP and MS Business Unit Head, North America, Genzyme. “We hope that by sharing these success stories and the important information on the Swim for MS online Aquatic Center that we’re proud to sponsor, we will inspire more people to be active and get in the pool.”
In addition to these inspirational stories, MSAA has developed a variety of resources on aquatic exercise and MS available on our new Swim for MS online Aquatic Center, accessed at SwimForMS.org. For more information on the Swim for MS online Aquatic Center, please read the Program Notes column of this publication.