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IC water walking class relieves physical and mental pain

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | JUNE 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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"Knee high march."

Arthritis Foundation Aquatics Program instructor Glenn Kloosen shouted out commands for a group of about 20 elderly men and women. They bobbed through the water of the Mercer Park Aquatic Center on Wednesday, working the pain out of their knees and hips.

"Side leg lifts."

Marlene Slaubaugh can't walk more than half a block on land before she has to stop and rest. But the 73-year-old can walk in water for an hour and a half without feeling any pain.

"Thumb circles."

Judy Wyatt injured a sciatic nerve eight years ago and was instructed to start water exercising. She's been coming to Mercer three times a week to manage the pain from the nerve damage, arthritis, and osteoporosis in her 77-year-old body.

"Trunk rotation."

Rita Decker realized her knees were going out in June 2002, so she started attending the water-walking class at Mercer. It made such an impact on her life that she became certified through the Arthritis Foundation to instruct the class as well.

Decker didn't need her first knee replacement until 2005 after water walking regularly. Her second knee replacement wasn't until 2009, seven years after her pain started.

"It helps tremendous to know you're not the only one out there who's hurting," Slaubaugh said. "We all got problems because we're all getting old, but we can come here together, and it's nice."

The water gives the elderly back their freedom. They can exercise their tired bodies in the water without pain.

"Each exercise is a little different," Kloosen said. "You have your head and shoulders, you have your arms and your torso. You have your legs, your feet, your toes. We exercise for 50 minutes in the water and it helps everything, every part of the body."

The conversation among the water-walkers never ceases during the 50-minute class. All the participants are friends — they even go out to eat together and organize potlucks. Wyatt said the arthritis class is more like social hour than anything else.

"I would never come without the connection I have with these people," Wyatt said. "They're such good people, and that part of this class helps me, too."

They sing children's songs, the group of men and women in their 60s and 70s. They sing "Row, row, row, your boat" when they practice a rowing motion. {I'm a Little Teapot" accompanies torso bends. "You are my Sunshine" couples with an arching motion over their head.

"When you're singing, you can't hold your breath," Decker said. "So we sing to make sure we're breathing. But we also sing to smile, because it does, it makes us smile."

Kloosen suffers from arthritis himself, but he stands in chest-deep water with a laminated list of exercises strung around his neck. He spent 43 years working at Quaker Oats, where he was a leader his entire life. He didn't want the arthritis in his shoulders and old age to stop that.

"I wanted to be a leader, and I wanted to help people," he said. "I want to be a leader wherever I go. And my voice carries well in the pool. That's important, too."

Decker said that many of the women who attend the class are widowed and lonely. They're hurting, physically and mentally.

But the water-walking class helps that.

"We've all got our aches and pains," Wyatt said. "But this class helps it all. We wouldn't keep coming back for years and years if it didn't."

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