Shirley Simpson decided to join the Red Deer Masters Silver Sharks, through encouragement by health care staff, after she experienced years of chronic pain.
The support and training she has received in the swim club has changed her outlook on life and helped her deal with her pain.
“Above learning the techniques of the different strokes, I would say going from feeling like a patient to feeling like an athlete that is a tremendous difference,” Simpson said.
“It makes you feel so much better as a person.”
Simpson suffered for 18 years with chronic pain. In particular, neck and back pain caused by a vehicle collision limited what she could do in life.
In September 2009, her kinesiologist and her physiotherapist both encouraged her to join the Red Deer Masters Silver Sharks.
At first she was nervous to join a swim club because she assumed everyone would be an elite athlete.
But once she got there she found everyone to be very helpful.
“I needed to see how real swimmers swim,” said Simpson, who feels she has benefited not only through the coaching, but by being mentored by other swimmers.
She said after years of trying to adjust to her broken body it was awesome to find something that did not hurt her.
“The coaches made a point of telling me how to avoid injury, as well as improve my skills,” Simpson said.
“My lane mates made a point of encouraging me to swim.”
Everyone in the group answered her questions and she can now do front crawl, backstroke, breast stroke and even butterfly.
“For the first time since my accident I was with a group of people outside health care facilities that treated me like equals,” Simpson said. “Swimming is not a weight bearing sport so it was something I can do.”
Everything went so well during her first year of swimming that Simpson decided to take part in her first swim meet in November of this year, even taking part in relays with her teammates. “It seemed like everyone was cheering for me by name,” Simpson said. She also got to cheer for others.
When the times were posted, Simpson found that her times were personal bests for her.
“These pools are a lifeline to me,” said Simpson, who now swims several times a week. She said being part of the Living Well Program through Alberta Health Services has also helped. The Living Well Program shows those with chronic conditions how to manage those conditions, seek exercise options and go through education sessions.
In the past, Simpson struggled to lift a 1/4 pound weight in her physiotherapy appointment. “The other day I picked up my chosen granddaughter in her big car seat and carried her confidently over the snow to the car,” Simpson said.
She encouraged others to join the Silver Sharks no matter what their swimming level and to go at it from a “I want to learn attitude.”
Her family has noticed the difference in her.
“My nephews have seen me go from a poor bent over person developing a weight problem to somebody who is standing up taller and looking strong. Also within that I have gained a lot of confidence,” Simpson said.
More information on the Red Deer Masters Silver Sharks is available at www.reddeermastersswimclub.com.