October 10, 2008

A Stroke of Genius! ; IT is Never Too Late to Learn to Swim. It is One of the Best Forms of Exercise, No Matter What Your Age. CATHY OWEN Talks to Three South Wales Swimmers About Their Motivations…


IF you want to know the secret to a happy, healthy life, you could definitely learn a thing or two from Joe Scanlan.

Joe is a youthful 93 years of age, and a wonderful example of how an active lifestyle and a positive attitude can do wonders in keeping you fit in mind and body.

Formerly an electrician, Joe, from Fairwater, Cardiff, was enjoying an active retirement, when two years ago, changing a light bulb changed his life.

He broke his right thigh bone and was subsequently diagnosed with osteoporosis, a degeneration of the bones, meaning his leg would never be the same.

On dealing with his injury, Joe said: "My leg just never mended - it always dragged behind and was a real nuisance. To this day, it's quarter of an inch shorter than the other one."

But Joe is not the type to give up, or let anything stop him doing anything he wants.

Feeling frustrated by the limitations on his movement, he looked for ways to overcome his disability.

"One day, I met a man who was coming out of the betting shop and he suggested that I try swimming. When racehorses are injured, trainers exercise them in the water.

Although I'd not set foot in a swimming pool for 21 years, that really got me thinking."

Joe's first visit to Fairwater Leisure Centre in Cardiff wasn't a roaring success.

"I got in the water and paddled around by myself in the corner. But when I went to push myself away from the side and swim, I just sank like a stone. I just couldn't get my balance due to my bad leg. Thankfully, there were lifeguards on duty, who picked me up from the bottom!"

The experience might have stopped some, but not Joe.

"It all started from there. I picked up a leaflet about free swimming for over 60s. I talked to my GP and said that I wanted to swim and then I was referred to the free swimming programme. Then, I was set up with swimming lessons and gym sessions."

He was referred by a special programme run by Cardiff council as part of the Welsh Assembly Government's free swimming initiative for people aged 60 and over.

The council scheme allows seniors to be referred for swimming sessions by their GPs, helping people of all abilities to access the programme free of charge, and obtain special one-to-one tuition.

Joe was booked into regular swimming lessons with swimming teacher, Mike Foley, as well as individual personal training sessions at Fairwater Leisure Centre.

Joe said: "When I first swam six yards, the ladies' aerobics class formed a guard of honour!"

From his positive experiences, he wants to share his secrets of success and encourage other older people to give something new a try.

"After having an active life, facing retirement, you can feel a bit lost and don't know where you fit in. Having something to aim for everyday is really important as you can so easily get into a habit of sitting at home and not really doing anything. It's important to think positively. You have the time to do things so do something with your time!

"It's a pity that more people don't start earlier as there is so much that can be gained by an active life. My doctor is very impressed with me and my family can't believe the change. I've seen so much improvement with my hip. And I know that my physical condition is just getting better and better."

Joe has nothing but praise for his instructor Mike, and his gym trainer, Donna, who both helped with his recovery and continue to do so every week.

"Their sincerity and patience just comes across in everything they do. You know, a convoy only goes as fast as the slowest ship.

"Now I just want to keep healthy and keep fit. I have everything else I need."

NO ORDINARY JOE: Joe Scanlon, 93

'It's a huge learning curve for them'

MIKE Foley has been teaching swimming for six years at Cardiff's Fair water Leisure Centre.

While he works with Joe on a one-to-one basis, he also looks after the adult improvers' class. A senior himself, Mike, from Cathays, pictured below, shares his experience on what it is like to teacholder people to swim.

"It's a huge learning curve for them and it's all about conquering their fear.

"Some of the adults we see coming in have grand children of their own and this can be are alincentive to help them learn.

They don't want to miss out on all the fun they could have with them.

"For others it can bet he social aspect.

They realize that there are other people there like them and it can effectively become a high light or focal point of the week. The friendship and laughter that comes along with the lessons makes it a really fun experience, particularly for those who might live alone.

To find out more about the free swimming initiativefor over60s, visit www.free-swimming wales.org.ukordrop intoyour localleisure centre.

I was petrified of water but now I dive in at the deep end!

At 73, some might say it would be time to throw in the towel, not pick it up.

But Priscilla Downes from Treforest is no ordinary 73-year-old.

The super-fit grandmother has run more than 20 marathons all over the world, and more half marathons and 10 mile runs than she cares to remember. But for all her guts and determination, she could not face the water.

Pushed into the fountain of the old Pontypridd baths at the age of 15, Priscilla had such a fright from the experience that it prevented her from setting foot in a swimming pool again for half a lifetime.

Priscilla said: "I was so scared by the experience; I would panic if I was in water any deeper than three foot.

"My husband, my three children and all my grandchildren can swim, and my daughter has a swimming pool in France. Not wanting to miss out on all the family fun, I wanted to be able to swim as well.

"About 10 months ago I found out from a friend that they were teaching adult swimming lessons at Hawthorn Pool through the 60s plus free swimming sessions. So, I decided to give it a try.

"My first session was a bit of a nightmare. I couldn't swim three strokes and I was scared out of my wits. But the instructor, Mel Hinksman, instilled in me some confidence that I didn't know I had. He swam patiently by my side until I had the confidence to swim on my own.

"Mel is a fantastic teacher and has taught me to do what I thought I could never do. Up until about three months ago, I could swim from the deep end to the shallow end, but I just couldn't swim back to the deep end. It was too much and I felt the fear come over me when the water was about five foot deep. My son who lives in Brazil phoned me and said that this just didn't make sense. He said, if I could swim a length one way, I should be able to go the other way too! He was right, so I dived in and did it!

"Now I can dive in the deep end and swim all the way without hesitation.

Bearing in mind I was absolutely petrified of the water, I'm very pleased!

"Once, almost 20 years ago, I paid for swimming lessons and after 10 lessons I still couldn't do anything. The instructor told me I was trying too hard! But Mel was different. He is a brilliant teacher.

"If there are other ladies out there who think they will never be able to swim, they are wrong. If they knew they could - they would. And believe me, if I can get over my fear, they can too."

(c) 2008 South Wales Echo. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.