POOL PALS: Seniors come to pool for exercise and more
On any given Monday, Wednesday or Friday morning, the echo of Diana Ross’ voice can be heard traveling up the staircase from the basement pool at the Natchez senior center.
“You’ll hear them when you get to the stairs,” the receptionist at the Natchez Senior Multi-Purpose Complex front desk said when giving directions to the senior swimming program.
For some participants, the misty humidity of the basement pool area and smell of chlorine has been waking them up for years, or in some cases, decades.
If the feel and smell doesn’t jump start the day, “Baby Love,” by the Supremes and other Motown hits blaring from a boom box in an acoustically charged room should.
A survey of senior mermaids and one merman shows that most of them started doing water aerobics or swimming laps on the recommendation of their doctor or physical therapist.
Knee replacements, bypass surgeries, rheumatoid arthritis, back problems — all were cited as reasons for the first dip in the pool.
But after suiting up together for years, many said they now come for more than just a joint-friendly work out.
“It’s more than exercise — it’s sort of a social thing for me,” said Paul Klutts, 95.
Klutts has been swimming with the program for more than two decades, he said.
He gets in the water at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and swims for 45 minutes before taking a 15-minute soak in the hot tub.
“About the only social life I have is built around the friends I have at the pool,” Klutz said.
“It makes my day.”
In addition to lap swimming available through the program, Maxine McAndrews, who coordinates it, has been teaching water aerobics three days a week for years.
After a while, the Motown went quiet at a recent session, and McAndrews’ voice, from a recording, started calling out instructions as the live version of the woman joined in with the class.
The 15 particpants followed the recording’s instructions to lift left, then lift right, to squeeze — then release.
“I feel great, but tired,” said Lotte Smith, 83, who has been involved in the program for a total of approximately 16 years.
“I’m tired — but good tired,” she said.
Jacqulyn Williams, 68, said she’s met lots of friends and acquaintances during her years at the pool.
Williams said she joined more than 12 years ago as means of therapy for her back, but she’s stayed on for “maintenance” and the friendships.
And there’s also the games.
McAndrews said that sometimes after class the group will set up the volleyball net or play other games.
She and Williams laughed about the time they played “the gate,” a game in which one swimmer slithers through a gate of other people’s legs.
“Going through the gate is fun,” Williams said. “(McAndrews) keeps it lively.”
The aerobics isn’t all about moving and stretching, though, they also lift weights. While some light dumbbells are used, the main form of weightlifting is raising up water-filled milk cartons and other containers.
At a session last week, Williams scrounged the poolside for the milk carton that contained the right amount of water for proper toning.
“(The exercise) helps me, I’m sure of that,” Williams said, adding that she hopes the routine will give her live some longevity.
When Williams started more than a decade ago, she couldn’t stray from the shallow end. But in 2003, McAndrews decided to teach Williams to swim for the first time.
Now Williams goes for a few laps after the water aerobics, counting the laps at the end of the pool with a homemade abacus.
Johnnie Carter and her husband, Ralph, started participating in water aerobics two and a half years ago.
The Woodville couple makes the drive every day, sometimes bringing along Johnnie’s sister-in-law and her cousin.
“It’s an investment in my health, and maybe I can live a little longer,” Johnnie said.
She said she was taking lots of painkillers with little relief before she started water aerobics. Now the pain is much less, and she feels like the water is the best venue for exercise.
“I can do things in the water I can’t do on land,” Johnnie said.
Though Ralph is the lone male of the group, he seems to blend in, Johnnie and McAndrews said.
“He talks to just about everyone,” Johnnie said.
“We seem to all get along pretty well,” Johnnie said.
Smith said racial lines are crossed at the pool, as well, unlike some other settings.
“There’s no difference between black and white (at the pool),” Smith said. “It’s a good bunch.”
Klutts, the program veteran, has a theory about why the group gets along so well.
“People who come here are different than most because it takes some “get up and go” (to come),” he said. “I love these people down here.”
A “sharing bench” and book shelf prove how much community has been built on the water’s surface.
McAndrews said whatever gets placed on the blue bench beside the pool is open territory for sharing. Last week, a grocery bag of pears was up for grabs. The bookshelf near the pool contained a row of books and magazines that are frequently traded out.
“We have a lot of fun,” said Maggie Lewis, 52.
“When one of us is missing, we know something is wrong,” Lewis said.
McAndrews agreed that the tight-knit group does a good job of keeping tabs on each other.
“The thing is — they take care of each other,” McAndrews said.
For more information about the program, call McAndrews at 601-445-0381.