July 13, 2020

Warm-water pool a `fountain of youth’ > Old Town-Orono YMCA helps in healing

OLD TOWN — Ralph Leonard discovered the virtues of the Herbert Sargent Family Therapeutic Pool firsthand after he underwent knee replacement surgery last May.

As soon as the Old Town resident’s physical therapy program had progressed to the point where he no longer needed to do it in a hospital setting, Leonard moved his exercise routine to the warm-water pool at the Old Town-Orono YMCA at 501 Stillwater Ave.

A firm believer in the healing powers of warm-water therapy, Leonard estimated that the mornings he spent exercising in the pool here speeded up his knee recovery by at least a month.

“I could put weight on it,” something Leonard acknowledged had been difficult and painful to do on land in the early part of his recuperation.

“It doesn’t feel like excercise but it is,” Leonard said during a recent visit to the pool. “It gives you the benefits of movement without the stress on your body.”

The completion of the $1 million warm-water swimming pool two years ago was a boon to the community and to residents of outlying towns, who drive in from as far as Lincoln to swim here.

In addition to swim lessons for children and adults, the pool offers several therapeutic programs overseen by Eastern Maine Medical Center and led by certified instructor Michelle Fournier.

Adaptive aquatics is a flexibility class aimed at helping participants increase their range of motion. It involves stretching exercises adapted to fit the needs of the individual and free swim time.

Water aerobics and water walking sessions combine cardiovascular exercise with toning and strength training.

“This therapeutic pool is ahead of its time,” says Executive Director Doug Springer. A combination of three features set the YMCA’s warm-water pool apart from others in the area, said Springer, who has been with the Old Town YMCA since 1983.

First is the water temperature. At 87 to 89 degrees, this pool is warmer than regular pools, which normally maintain temperatures of 82 or 83 degrees.

While that might not sound like much of a temperature spread, it makes a world of difference to people like Hilda Sewall, also of Old Town.

“Having your weight dispersed sort of makes it more comfortable,” Sewall said. The warmth of the water relaxes her muscles, enabling her able to move and stretch in ways that are difficult on land.

Another difference is the gently sloped ramp, which allows those who need wheelchairs to roll them into the pool. The YMCA provides wheelchairs made for use in the water.

Thirdly, the pool’s floor consists of flat surfaces. This feature is crucial for those who use the pool for exercise and stretching routines.

“It provides a good workout,” pool Director Jim Willis said. Every 10 pounds on land equals 1 pound in water, which means less pressure on joints. At the same time, water provides four times the resistance that air does.

“We call it the fountain of youth,” Associate Executive Director David Graham said.

“We always say that the pool is for the young and the young at heart,” added Michelle Fournier, certified instructor of therapeutic programs.

The pool is open from 6 a.m. through 8:30 p.m. on weekdays, as well as most of Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening.

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