Rehabbing seniors find aquatic exercise the best therapy

Published on Monday, 11 February 2019 20:50
Written by Karla Santos


NEW BRITAIN - In 2006, Lorraine Stec, 83, of Bristol, visited the Hospital for Special Care for physical therapy after knee replacement surgery. While she was recovering, she became interested in the Aquatic Rehabilitation Center.

Stec was 70 years old at that point. She asked if they had swimming lessons and didn’t take no for an answer.

“That’s when I first learned how to swim,” Stec said.

The instructor that taught Stec how to swim motivated her to join a morning deep water class, which she started to take and has continued to do ever since.

“I have arthritis, and one thing about this type of exercise is you can’t do these moves on land, but you can in the water,” Stec said. “The way I look at it is this exercise kind of decreases the ravages of the old age. It slows it down. You have to keep moving your body as you get older. It takes a commitment and an effort.”

The Aquatic Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Care was established in 1999. Pools in the center have a lift to help people who can’t walk get into the pool. In addition, there’s an adaptive sports program with a swimming component for teens with physical and developmental challenges.

The Aquatic Rehabilitation Center offers memberships to the community, patients and employees. The group classes include deep water aquatics, deep water for beginners, aquatic yoga, low impact surprise aquatics, aqua challenge, water Tai Chi, strength and stretch aquatics and breath and balance aquatic classes.

Amy Gray has been one of the swimming instructors at HSC for 10 years. Gray teaches a deep water course that runs three times a week starting at 7 a.m. Gray said her favorite part of the class is motivating the students to workout. Gray’s class is mainly attended by retired senior citizens.

“Even if you have younger people it’s all about how much effort they can put into the class, some people can do more than others,” Gray said. “I always help everybody go at their own pace with whatever feels good for them.”

Evelyn Newman Phillips, 68, of New Britain, used to be a runner. She started taking the morning swimming course after she had taken part in a physical therapy program that involved pool exercises at HSC.

“I used to be a runner but I couldn’t run anymore so the pool became a part of my life,” Phillips said. “Swimming allows me to have a full body workout since I can’t go out running on the pavement. ”

Ana Boissonneault, 56, of East Berlin, started taking the swimming class five years ago. She said she enjoys the class and part of it is because of the instructor.

“The instructor Amy, she is fantastic, we have the best instructor,” Boissonneault said. “The class is fun, different music, different moves, it’s never the same. I have arthritis and I feel so much better when I come. We just love it, it’s just a great class and the facility is wonderful.”

Mary Fedder-Lebel, 75, of New Britain, has been in the swimming program for 10 years.

“I came the winter after I retired,” Lebel said. “I didn’t know anyone in the class, but you very quickly develop a friendship. In 2015 and 2016 I had both of my knees replaced, and because of taking this class, it made the surgery and the recovery much easier.”

David Fearon, 76, of New Hartford, was on the committee that started the plans to build the Aquatic Rehabilitation Center in 1997.

“We found out that if we could have fitness and therapy, people could continue taking care of themselves after they left the hospital,” Fearon said.

One of the ideas was that the facility could be a place where people with advanced age would feel comfortable working out. Once the center opened, a lot of people extended their quality of life because they started to use the gym to work out and swim in the pool, Fearon said. This was essentially the vision of former president and chief executive officer of HSC, Dave Crandall and Dr. John Votto, Fearon added.

When the Aquatic Rehabilitation Center opened, Fearon also started taking the morning deep water aquatics class. Today, he continues to get up early in the morning just to go take the class.

“You come here, you are out by 8:15 and you have a whole day and you start your day with energy,” Fearon said. “You are rewarded because you get great exercise and you get to make wonderful friends and it becomes a part of your life. From a holistic standpoint of health, this is a total package.”

To learn more about HSC’s Aquatic Rehabilitation Center visit

Karla Santos can be reached at 860-801-5079 or

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol, General News on Monday, 11 February 2019 20:50. Updated: Monday, 11 February 2019 20:52.