Aquatics class makes a splash

Therapy: People with arthritis and fibromyalgia find relief and friends in an Arena Club program.

January 04, 2004|By Sarah Merkey | Sarah Merkey,SUN STAFF

Participants in the Aqua Arthritis program at the Arena Club in Churchville may have found the closest thing to the fountain of youth in Harford County. The fountains in the natatorium may lack rejuvenating qualities, but the therapy pool is a different matter for the senior citizens who use it three days each week.

Jennifer Vido, the Aquatic Therapy Program coordinator at the club, is certified through the Arthritis Foundation and has been teaching Aqua Arthritis classes for four years.

Vido, 36, has suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since the age of 8 and recently underwent hip replacement surgery.

"I can relate," Vido said. "I know how it feels to get up in the morning and feel stiff and sore."

Vido has remained active despite her arthritis. As a child she was a ballerina and a cheerleader: "I used to do cartwheels on my fists," she said.

As she grew older, she struggled to find the best type of activity for her disease.

Vido was an aerobics instructor until her arthritis worsened; it was soon afterward that she began teaching water therapy classes. She now teaches all of the Aqua Arthritis classes at the Arena Club as well as PACE, a class for arthritis management, one day a week.

Aqua Arthritis is offered in the heated therapy pool in the morning and evening.

Classes are geared toward those who have arthritis or fibromyalgia, a chronic disease characterized by fatigue, muscle pain and tenderness at specific points on the body.

One of the most noticeable aspects of the aquatics class is the atmosphere.

"It's not just an exercise club, we care about each other," said Anna Baker of Bel Air. "We've become very friendly; we often meet for lunch or breakfast."

"Socially, there are immediate benefits," said Jackie Stocks, the club's athletic director. Vido and Stocks agree that the physical changes typically are noticeable after about three weeks.

The hourlong class includes a variety of activities tailored to the participants' abilities.

The use of weights complements the underwater squats and sit-ups to create a well-rounded workout. The therapy pool's water, heated to 90 degrees, is more soothing to arthritic joints than the main pool, Vido said.

Some people are more intent on working out than others. At times there is more talking than squatting. Still, the participants seem pleased with the results.

"It makes a big difference in mobility and flexibility," said Sue Johnson, a Bel Air resident who has taken part in the program for about three years.

"I'm more limber; I have more flexibility," Baker said.

Jennifer Gilbert of Havre de Grace suffers from fibromyalgia. "It's nice working out with people who have the same condition," she said. "It's a good outlet to meet people."

Melita Maxwell suffers from the same condition. "If I miss a week, I am very stiff, but after class I am limbered up again," she said. She also attributed much of the program's success to the instructor. "Jenn's personality makes it fun."

A Bel Air resident since 1999, Vido is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and a former French teacher.

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