Carleton-Willard Village swimmers win 7 medals

August 02, 2007

Bedford Minuteman

By Patrick Ball

Muire Lindahl, the fitness director at Carleton-Willard Village, often watches the sunrise from a marvelous aquatic setting, with the vacant gaze of two green-haired, plastic mermaids fixed upon her. Between them, the surprisingly strong strokes of a svelte, silver-haired swimmer cut through the water with surprising grace.

No sand lies beneath Lindahl’s feet, instead she stands securely on Italian tile. Silence and the distinctly pungent aroma of chlorine fill the air, and the walls flicker with the eerie incandescence of water reflected off glass – this is a location far removed from any beach.

“Many a morning I watch the sun come up while watching a 92-year-old swim 66 laps” in Carleton-Willard Village’s 40-feet-by-20-feet pool, said Lindahl, the director of fitness at Carleton-Willard. The mermaids were gifts from Residents, who convinced one of the facilities people to bring them into the pool last Halloween as a joke.

That silver-haired swimmer could very well be Shea Smith, a distance swimmer who, according to Lindahl, swims one quarter of a mile every morning.

Smith and four other Residents of Carleton-Willard Village traveled to Springfield College on June 16 for the 16th Massachusetts Senior Games, and came back to Bedford with seven medals – six gold and one silver.

Smith cleaned up in the 90-and-over category, tallying three gold medals by winning 200-meter and 50-meter freestyle events and the 50-meter backstroke. Howard Gray took gold in the 85-and-above 50-meter backstroke. Paul and Martha Lawrence earned three medals between them. Mrs. Lawrence took silver in the 50-meter freestyle, and her husband won gold in both the 50-meter and 200-meter freestyle events. Larry Graff, who is the newest villager on the team, competed in the 50-meter backstroke and freestyle events, but was shut out from the medals.

Gray had swum for an undefeated Yale team during his college days, and Graff swam for his high school team in Philadelphia, but other than that, none of the senior swimmers had ever swum competitively.

Graff, 79, was a very good swimmer for West Catholic High School in Philadelphia, but hadn’t swum at all since then, before coming to Carleton-Willard in February, that is.

“I wasn’t really quite ready for it, but I figured, ‘What the heck,'” said Graff, 79. He was a very successful swimmer for West Catholic High School in Philadelphia, but had not swum at all since then, before he came to Carleton-Willard, that is.

He has enjoyed getting back into swimming and using the fitness room, and said his fitness and stamina have improved since he began working out. “I’ll be ready next year,” he said. “I’m not really working hard yet – I tend to be lazy. But once I get determined to do really do well I’ll train harder.”

Graff is looking forward to a chance at earning a medal next year, and not just because he’ll be competing in the 80 – 85 age bracket, but because his wife is thinking about swimming in next year’s Senior Games as well.

For the past five years, Carleton-Willard has sent at least two and as many as eight swimmers to the Massachusetts Senior Games. Most of the competitors were observed swimming by Lindahl, who believed they had the ability and encouraged them to try.

The senior swimmers of Carleton-Willard Village have traditionally done quite well, in spite of the fact that the vast majority had never before swum competitively. In addition to working out in the water, most of the competitive swimmers do strength training two or three days a week, and some do aerobics as well.

Actually, just about everybody who uses the pool utilizes the fitness room, which opened in May of 200, said Lindahl. She estimates there are about 35 swimmers who use the pool regularly, and 110 villagers who actively exercise in the fitness room.

Designed by Tsomides Associates Architects and Planners (TAAP) of Newton, the pool opened in December of 2000, and Carleton-Willard and TAAP won, in 2002 a Nursing Homes Magazine and Sage Best In Category award for single room/space/feature.

“The pool is kept pristine,” said Lindahl. Major maintenance initiatives on a yearly basis have kept the pool in its immaculate condition. “At seven year old, it looks like it was opened yesterday,” she said.

The pool opens daily at 7 a.m. In the shallower end, the pool measures 3 ½ feet and the depth increases to 4 ½ feet deep at the far end. The water is set at 86 degrees, a temperature that is “very therapeutic,” according to Lindahl. The pool is set up for lanes, and the villagers can do water aerobics or enjoy a recreational swim. A 100-degree spa abuts the pool. Lindahl said the spa is “relaxing and soothing to the muscles.”

The benefits of the water, she said, include reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, improving circulation, strengthening respiratory muscles, enhancing cardiovascular efficiency and that is gentle on the joints.

Villagers can achieve a full-body workout in the fitness center. It is equipped with six Kaiser multi-muscle group machines that use compressed air, which is gentler on the joints than weights, three NuStep stair climbers, a Schwinn stationary bike and an assortment of exercise balls. All of the equipment was paid for by the Residents through their Resident Association Fund.

The Aquatic and Fitness Center offers all kinds of treatment – from dermatology to optometry, physical therapy to podiatry, the center offers all kinds of treatment, including alternative treatments such as acupuncture. Lindahl, herself, is a certified yoga instructor, and her staff is composed of one fulltime and three part-time employees, all of whom are trained in a wide range of fitness disciplines. The “medically sound” center has a full clinic, including a nurse practitioner and primary care physicians, said Lindahl.

All the Residents who use the Aquatic and Fitness Center get along with one another exceedingly well. “It’s like a family,” said Lindahl. “They’re really so good to each other – the Residents. The whole community is so kind to each other… It’s a high level of respect for each other and a high level of respect for the staff.”

In 2006, the Aquatic and Fitness Center at Carleton-Willard received MassAging’s Program Innovation of the Year award in recognition of a unique and expanded fitness program designed for Residents throughout the full continuum of care. Lindahl said the award was for Carleton-Willard’s “ability to keep people engaged and exercising throughout life, for as long as they possibly can.

“We follow them throughout life,” she said. “They’re willing participants when we follow them,” she said. “The work they do here gives the endurance to enjoy their everyday life.”