(This blog tells my family's story. To see more, click "blog" at the top of this webpage.)
My main reason to live off-campus in Cambridge? To be available for any kind of transition support. To make sure Beth was okay. We agreed I’d have a lot of free time, so I stressed about where to apply for a job.
Beth asked me to go with her the first time she swam at Harvard's Blodgett pool. She didn't know what obstacles she might encounter.
I saw many challenges.
The walk over the Charles River on the Anderson Memorial bridge was impossible in any kind of wheelchair because of the very high and steep curb cuts. Beth pointed out that she could wheel in the street when she was by herself, even though aggressive drivers filled the narrow lanes and turned over crosswalks. She also could avoid the bridge by calling ahead for an accessible shuttle to drop her off at the sidewalk in front of the pool. From the sidewalk to the building entrance: a significant downward slope. Heavy doors to open. Crowded lanes during the open swim.
A pool chair lift was temporarily out of service.
In the locker room, Beth tried to put on a swim cap, as always. She could get it mostly on, but when it bunched at the top, she pulled it off and handed it to me. I lowered her from the wheelchair to the pool deck and set her mesh equipment bag next to her with her printed workout from Peggy and goggles. I retreated to the stands to watch her swim. She stopped at times to put on hand paddles or a tempo trainer from the mesh bag, or to move for another swimmer in the lane. It wasn't easy sharing a lane with strangers, and she finished the workout early after a half hour. The corners of the pool included a much higher side, so she couldn't get herself out the usual way. Instead, she put her back to the side edge, put both hands up behind her, and lifted herself out of the pool after several tries to sit on the deck.
I checked with Beth and she reluctantly agreed for me to ask one of the life guards to lift her knees while I lifted her upper body to her wheelchair. In the locker room, no shower bench meant showering in her chair (minus the cushion), not a good thing for wheel bearings. Changing clothes in her wheelchair created the biggest challenge. One task she had mastered in high school was sliding on sweatpants over a wet suit, but at college, she would have classes after swim practice some days. I sat nearby as she pulled off the wet suit inch by inch, dried off, and tackled underwear and jeans. She let me help when the jeans bunched up under her and she needed to give her arms a break. When we left the building, the slope back up to the sidewalk was not gradual. She could wheel it very slowly, but that day she let me help with my hand on one of the push handles.
At Bertucci's in the square, Beth ordered a margherita pizza and talked about the pool, happy that swimming at Blodgett was doable on her own.
I returned her smile, grateful for her extraordinary perspective.
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