Growing up, I was never a “water person”. In fact I was the only one of my friends who wasn’t on the local swim team – even though I was the only one with a pool in my backyard. My sports and physical activities were strictly land-based — soccer, running, tennis and ballet. The only time I took to the water was to cool off on a hot summer day. Furthermore, I had almost drowned twice by the time I was 2 years old – so an aquatic environment was not exactly my comfort zone. Frankly, if someone had told me back then that I would eventually earn much of my living by working in a swimming pool I would’ve laughed!
My passion for aquatic exercise and therapy began out of personal necessity. As a former competitive runner, I discovered the benefits of aquatic therapy and training 23 years ago after suffering from many running-related injuries (partly due to my congenital scoliosis for which I wore a back brace for 3+ years in high school). Rather reluctantly, I began running and exercising in the deep end of a warm swimming pool wearing a flotation belt to take the stress off of my injuries. Much to my surprise, the pool not only became a refuge for me, it became a great cross training tool, by enabling me to exercise hard while helping my injuries heal. It also helped me maintain my sanity during that frustrating period as an athlete.
In addition to healing power of the warm water, I came to discover the performance benefits of aquatic training. For whereas most athletes leave the pool behind when their injuries heal, I continued training in the deep water even as I transitioned back to land running with great results. In fact, upon my return to competition I knocked 20 minutes off of my marathon PR (personal record) and later qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials. Furthermore, I became a faster, stronger, more resilient runner and (other than falling during a race!) I’ve never had a major running-related injury since and, though I no longer compete, today I still running regularly at age 49. I truly believe aquatic sports training gave me an edge over my frequently-injured competitors by both improving my overall strength and conditioning and preventing injuries. I used to call the aquatic workouts my “secret training weapon”. After finishing my masters in exercise physiology in 1996 I went on to become a certified aquatic therapist and today I spend many hours a week in warm water helping other athletes heal as well as achieve their competitive goals.
Bottom line: I would never have experienced success and longevity in my running career had it not been for the water.