Taking Back the Water

Ali IngersollGrowing up in the Bahamas instilled in me a deep love of life on and around the water. However, after a diving accident in 2010 made me a C6 quadriplegic, my water life came to a crashing halt.

I passed the months in my Miami hospital room daydreaming about getting back in the water. My SCI stabilized, and I started to get stronger, but a pressure sore I had picked up after the accident raged on. The doctors told me aquatic therapy was not in the cards for me until the wound on my sacrum fully healed. Stuck in bed for nine months, all I could do was focus on healing my body, and I passed my time researching swim instructors. I counted down the days until I was given the green light to enjoy the water.

I have many friends who were paralyzed in water-related incidents and are too afraid to risk swimming again. I had the opposite reaction. I wanted nothing more than to experience that unique feeling of weightlessness that comes with floating in the water. I was ready to submerge myself at a moment’s notice — only maybe I wouldn’t dive this time.

Thankfully, I found Hortensia Aguirre, a swim instructor in Miami with years of experience teaching people with disabilities to swim.  Teacher in tow, when I was finally cleared for swimming, I made haste to take the proverbial plunge. I purchased every piece of adaptive swim equipment I could think of, only to have Aguirre tell me I wouldn’t need any of them. She intended to teach me how to swim unassisted. I thought she was crazy, but she was the expert.

When I finally got into the pool, I was the happiest I had been in over a year. The feeling of being out of my wheelchair and simply floating in the water had me over the moon.

Getting My Stroke Back

Even though I was back in the water, I still couldn’t quite figure out how I was actually going to learn to swim. Every day Aguirre created a swim plan for me. One day she would just dunk my head underwater to get me accustomed to the feeling, the next day she would hold my arms and show me how to glide my upper body through the water in order to poke my head up for air, and the following day she would have me float on my back to understand how buoyant my new body was.

Day after day we practiced different techniques. I definitely swallowed more water than I had bargained for on several occasions. Aguirre was aggressive and pushed me because she could see I wasn’t afraid of the hard work or the water. We swam three times a week for over two years together.

Around six months into my training, Aguirre had her hands supporting me under my belly as I practiced swimming with my head face-down in the water. Then she pushed my arms firmly into the water in order to make me pop my head up to get a breath of air. I swam to the end of the pool, rolled over onto my back, and, to my great surprise, realized Aguirre was at the other end of the pool. I had done it all by myself!

Finally, after countless hours swimming, I had completed a length of the pool unassisted and without any devices to help me. Years later, it remains one of the best days of my life since my accident.

Aguirre pushed me to my limit, as she innately understood what I was capable of even when I did not. It was no small feat getting ready for swimming with caregivers, getting into the pool, and figuring out how to use this new body. But time, patience and determination pushed me over the finish line.

Swimming brought the life back into my world. Being able to get into the pool for some laps, lounging on floating mats in the water or hanging out with family and friends for a pool day makes me my happiest. I now eagerly anticipate each spring and summer when it warms up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and outdoor swim season begins. I start each swim session by doing 40 minutes of laps, and then my husband and I lounge around in floaty toys, getting a suntan in the pool.

I look forward to it each weekend and will do so as long as my body allows.

For a more detailed look at how Ingersoll swims, along with more pointers and tips, watch her instructional video.

** This post was originally published on https://www.newmobility.com/2020/06/taking-back-the-water/

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