Braille Monitor                                                   February 2010

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Blindness and My Struggle for More Exercise

by Sharon Maneki

From Barbara Pierce: Recently Sharon Maneki and I were roommates during a weekend meeting at the National Center for the Blind. She mentioned her water aerobics course, and I was immediately intrigued. I asked her some questions about the program and then asked her to write a brief article for the Braille Monitor describing her experience with this sort of exercise. Sharon chairs the NFB resolutions committee and is a past president of the NFB of Maryland. She also exercises regularly. Here is her article describing her experience:

As each year comes to a close and the new year begins, radio and television programs are filled with ads for diet products and exercise programs. Millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions to do more exercise during the coming year. According to statistics I have heard, most people give up on these resolutions by the end of January or February. For many years I was guilty of doing just that. In the beginning of 2007, I decided to take my resolutions seriously and do something different. Sometimes we can let blindness get in the way of exercising. I am sharing this story with you because I hope it will be a source of encouragement.

Whether we are blind or sighted, getting enough exercise can be a struggle. It is hard to find the time and hard to stick to a schedule. I am not athletically inclined, so I need extra motivation. I thought that, if I signed up for some type of exercise class that I had to pay for, I would be more likely to stick with it. I have some blind friends who use the Curves program based on exercise machines for thirty-minute sessions. Curves did not excite me. I believe it is important to do something that you enjoy if you want to achieve long-term, regular exercise. I have always enjoyed water activities, so I decided to try water aerobics.

The next step was finding the right program. One of my readers told me that our local community college in Howard County, Maryland, offers several water aerobics courses. Enrolling in a community college has the advantage of lower course fees with no annual club membership charges. I chose the course on water jogging because it was held at a convenient time for me.

I was concerned about how the college and the instructor would react to my blindness. I registered online for the class. Then I sent a note to the college administrators telling them that I was blind and wanted to make sure that the instructor would describe the instructions along with demonstrating them. Eventually I found the right person to ask about this. Luckily my instructor was very helpful in announcing and describing all of the moves. The college administrators also told me that I could bring someone with me to explain the moves. I chose not to do this, believing that it would set a bad precedent for me as well as for future blind students. If my companion could not attend a particular class, I might be automatically excluded from participating.

I have to admit that I was nervous for much of the first semester. I was afraid I would bump into other students. I wondered if I would understand the instructions. I summoned up my courage and reminded myself that I was there to have fun. This was a noncredit course and had no quizzes, tests, or grades. My goal was not achieving perfection, but attaining better cardiovascular health than I would have had by simply staying at home. At this level nobody cares if you don’t do the moves exactly right. You are in this course to challenge yourself. As Federationists it is important for us to be out in the public, demonstrating that the blind can participate in all aspects of community life. By taking this course, I could promote a different attitude toward blindness and become healthier at the same time.

The biggest factor in helping me to overcome my fears in this class was time. Although I had to listen carefully and concentrate on not hitting or kicking others nearby, I found that it was not that difficult to keep from avoiding contact with other students. After all, we were always moving in the same direction, keeping one side of our bodies near a wall of the pool or the lane marker. I use the same lane every week because it is the one closest to the instructor, which helps me hear her voice over the music. Most students change lanes from week to week, but no one cares that I do not change lanes. I need a little help finding a noodle when the instructor throws them into the water. I need assistance in finding the right-size belt that everyone wears to remain buoyant in order to concentrate on exercise rather than keeping the head above water. I can do everything else on my own. The veteran students now tell the new ones that I am fine and can take care of myself.

Over time I also figured out the best way to work with the instructor. Some of her instructions were very clear. Moves such as “jump forward” and “jump back” were no problem. When she announced “forward shrimp” or “snow angels,” however, I had no clue what she meant. After a couple of sessions I went to the class early and simply asked her to explain what these things meant. It turns out that “forward shrimp” means move your arms and legs from the center of your body out to the sides and back to the center. “Snow angels” means move your arms out to the sides as if you had wings. At the same time you bend your knees and push them up to your chest. Now that I have been taking this course for almost three years, I just ask the instructor before the first class if she is doing anything new this time. I also sometimes ask her to remind me what a particular move means such as “flap like a whale.”

During a recent class the instructor said, “Stand on your noodle.” This is a little difficult because it requires some balance. I heard a student say, “I can’t do this; I am just going to do something and keep moving.” His statement was very reassuring to me. I now follow his philosophy. If I don’t know what the instructor wants, I just do something and keep moving. Blind or sighted, exercise is a struggle.

Find something you like to do. Don’t worry about how you look or about getting everything right. I miss a couple of classes every semester because of state or national conventions. The important thing is that I am moving more than I would have done if I were sitting at home.


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