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She Plunged into a Healthy Lifestyle

A Nebraska woman uses prayer and faith to overcome her aversion to aquatic exercise.

Pam Hanson in the pool
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My friend Jo nudged me on our way out of church. “Hey, Pam,” she said, “want to come to Aqua Fit with me?” Jo had been talking up her water workout class for weeks. A true believer.

“Um…no thanks,” I said. “Maybe some other time.”

Make that never. I could swim but I didn’t like it. Not even a little. And Aqua Fit was for older ladies.

I’d been friends with Jo for a couple years—ever since my husband, Ralph, and I left our teaching jobs at West Virginia University and moved to Nebraska to be closer to family.

Ralph has diabetes and even though I’m active I’ve always struggled with my weight, so right away I signed us up at the YMCA.

Right after that, we found a church. That’s where I met Jo, who told me she went to the Y too. I started taking classes with my neighbor Peggy and another friend Franny—Zumba, step aerobics, Pilates. We were all about the same age and fighting the physical battle against getting older.

I’d lost close to 25 pounds and was in the best shape of my life. Five more pounds and I’d be at my goal weight. I’d never felt so motivated, and grateful to God for giving me the strength to persevere.

So why would I want to join some water workout class? I was doing just fine on land.

Then, one day after step class, my right heel started throbbing. Much worse than the usual post-workout foot aches. But I sure wasn’t about to let anything derail me from the progress I was making. So I tried to ignore the pain in my heel.

But the next morning I woke up in agony.

“Honey, you should really get that checked out,” Ralph said. “If it hurts too much to drive, I’ll take you.”

The doctor diagnosed me with plantar fasciitis—an inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot and referred me to the sports medicine clinic for further evaluation.

I’d heard of plantar fasciitis. With some shoe inserts and a few stretches before my workouts, I’d be as good as new, I figured.

I was wrong. “In addition to the fasciitis, you’ve got two hammer toes and possible nerve damage,” the physical therapist at the sports medicine clinic said. “Eventually those things could cause a serious mobility problem.” Seriously?

The therapist sent me to an orthopedic surgeon. The news only got worse. A specialist confirmed nerve damage. The surgeon said that if I wanted to stay active, I’d need tarsal tunnel release surgery and hammer toe correction.

I was afraid to ask. “How long will it be until I can get back to my classes atthe Y? Like, a couple weeks?”

The surgeon shook his head. He told me I’d need to stay away from high-impact exercise for several months. I was looking at about 18 months until my nerve endings healed completely.

What?! I was only five pounds away from my goal! This would totally set me back. Couldn’t I just push through the pain? No pain, no gain, right?

Ralph tried to talk some sense into me. “I want us to be able to take long walks together when we’re in our nineties,” he said. “A few months off will be worth it in the long run.”

“Okay, okay.” I knew he was right, but I still didn’t like it.

The surgery went well.

But back home I fell into a funk. I wasn’t used to being sedentary. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, I thought. So many people have it worse.

Still, the more I dwelled on my recovery time, the more depressed I got. The more depressed, the more I ate.

The pounds piled back on. All my hard work, down the drain! I felt old and broken down. Lord, I prayed, sitting in my recliner one afternoon, my foot propped up, I know I’ve got to stop this pity party. You helped me get in shape in the first place. Show me how to get healthy again.

That’s when Jo stopped me again at church. “I know I’ve asked you before…but why don’t you give Aqua Fit a try?” she asked.

I already felt bad enough, so I sure wasn’t about to take a class that I knew I wouldn’t like and wouldn’t fit into. “That’s really sweet of you, Jo,” I said, “but maybe some other time.”

Then Franny stopped by. “Has Jo gotten you to change your mind about trying the Aqua Fit classes?” Franny had recently started the aqua classes and really enjoyed them.

All at once, my excuses tumbled out: “Aren’t most of the women in that class a lot older than us? So it’s not for me. Besides, I don’t have a swimsuit. Or pool shoes. I don’t even like the pool.”

Franny wasn’t having any of that. To get her off my back, I asked my physical therapist about Aqua Fit. “That sounds like exactly what you need!” she said. “Exercising in water will be low impact on your foot, but still give you a great workout.”

Okay, I had to admit it. Maybe the Lord was trying to tell me something. To stop wallowing. To stop with the excuses. He was giving me what I asked for—a way to stay fit. I knew it was time to jump in.

My first day at Aqua Fit, I met up with Franny in the locker room. A trim, lovely woman 30 years my senior greeted us. “Hello, friend,” she said to me, “I’m Matilda, but you can call me Til.”

We walked out to the pool together. Oh, I’m not sure I’m going to like this, I thought, hesitantly stepping in. “C’mon, Pam, you can do this,” Franny said, guiding me down the steps.

I looked around at the 10 women standing in the shallow end, a whole range of ages. Kathy, our instructor, introduced me. “Welcome, Pam!” everyone said, waving.

Kathy passed around foam hand weights to each of us. We formed a circle. We swung our arms vigorously to her routine, then lifted our legs one at a time like water Rockettes. It was easy to follow and a much better workout than I ever imagined. Plus, my foot didn’t hurt a bit!

I started going to Aqua Fit three or four days a week with Jo and Franny. I made new friends too.

Some are older, like Betty, an 80-year-old former reporter, and Ruth, another church friend, who is 90 and a retired nurse. Ruth and her husband once served on the Y board, and she started going to classes when the facility first opened.

Some are my age, like Bev, who is in her fifties. “If Ruth can do this, I’ve got no excuses,” she said. And there’s Mo, who is 10 years younger than me, and has gone through foot and hip surgeries. She’s my inspiration.

It’s been a year since my foot surgery. I’m feeling stronger than ever. I’m back to a full schedule of classes at the Y. Only now it includes my favorite—Aqua Fit.

I can’t believe I almost missed out on it, and on feeling great, because of my stubbornness and pride. Good thing my friends keep pushing me and that Someone nudged them. Sometimes, doing the one thing you don’t want to do can be the best thing you’ve ever done.

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