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After I quit my job at the high school, our new normal changed for me from an onslaught to simply overwhelming.
Beth attended school most days and I met her there over her lunch period. Life continued to be exhausting. Even so, Beth looked forward to physical therapy.
I watched her complete the beginning steps of a therapy session in November, six months after her injury. Progress was obvious. She no longer needed complete assistance with hand-over-hand guidance, but she also could not move out of her chair independently. Laraine caught Beth when she tipped too far forward to pull a wheelchair brake, helped her scoot over on a sliding board, and steadied her as she sat up on the mat table.
At a time when every movement on land required focused exertion, Beth found unexpected freedom in the water.
Not a swimmer before the injury, she needed more trials with more sinking before she could stay afloat on her back for more than a few moments. Waving her arms underwater moved her backwards. When she lost her balance and tipped over, she couldn’t get back in a floating position or get to the edge of the pool by herself—or get her head up to breathe.
At the pool wall, she held herself up with both hands, then tried and failed, over and over, to get on her back without help.
Weeks later, Beth invited Laraine and Jill to her last therapy session in the rehab pool. In the water with another therapist, my youngest attempted to float on her own, unsuccessfully. Sinking, she worked her arms in a burst of effort, raised her head, reached up to the wall with both hands, and caught her breath. After another try, she positioned herself on her back and waved her arms underwater to stay afloat, to breathe, and to move very slowly across the small pool. Eventually reaching the opposite wall, she grabbed the ledge with effort, using both hands.
In an impressive feat of balance, Beth achieved a floating position independently again and dragged along a sinking trunk and legs through another lap.
“Once she entered the water, wow,” Jill said. “It was awesome!”
Seven years later, after setting 14 Paralympic American Records, Beth told a Harvard reporter, “I discovered I had good water technique and was able to keep myself afloat pretty well. Not at the beginning—it obviously took me awhile to learn how to swim.”
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