By Bob Balgemann
There are no long faces when co-instructors Sharon Harms and Ann Horrell glide into the 89-degree water in the swimming pool at Mount Vernon Towers in Sandy Springs and put a group of mostly retirees through their paces.
“It keeps me moving,” said Emily Turnipseed, 94 who lives in the 10-story, 300-unit condominium complex for seniors. “At 94, you need something to keep you moving.”
This particular Wednesday morning, four generations were among the 23 people exercising their arms and legs. Turnipseed was joined by daughter Ann Meaders, granddaughter Laurel McLeod, and great-grandsons Michael and Trevor McLeod. The class included 15 other women and one man.
“A porpoise among mermaids” is how the lone man, Roy Graham, described himself.
Barbara Harms taught the class for 16 years before a stroke forced her to give it up. Now daughter Sharon and Horrell run the show.
Barbara Harms said residents of Mount Vernon Towers flock to the exercises Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“It’s kind of tough that we’re down to the last month,” she said.
Sharon Harms makes sure her students know what to do. “I have a strong voice,” she said. “People on the 10th floor have said they can hear every stitch of the class.”
She also illustrates each exercise with hand motions.
On this day, the instruction focuses first on the arms. The first exercise resembles someone swinging a baseball bat back and forth.
“Keep those arms straight,” Sharon Harms orders.
Then comes dog paddling while standing, using the water as resistance for up-and-down arm movements.
Leg exercises begin 15 minutes later.
One exercise calls for participants to stand along the pool wall, extend the right leg to the left and touch the knee against the wall. Harms cautions everyone not to kick the person next door because “we have a large group today.”
“It’s all about flexibility and increasing your range of motion,” she says. “Challenge yourself.”
Her 30-minute session is over quickly, and Harms concludes with “Give yourselves a round of applause. You did a great job.”
Then it is Horrell’s turn. She leads most of the group in additional exercises, some using a plastic-foam noodle that is a popular floatation device.
In one exercise each participant rides the noodle as if it were a rocking horse, going back and forth, 10 times.
“I know the water is good for you,” says Horrell, a former Lake Lanier resident who lives on the 10th floor at Mount Vernon Towers. “I’m 83 years old, and I still enjoy it.”
She swims year-round, heading to the Benson Senior Center when Mount Vernon’s pool closes for the season.
Sharon Harms said the Aquacise Arthritis Program they use is the official arthritis standard.
“Mom has been doing it for 30 years,” she said. “It’s all about increasing their strength, mobility and range of motion. It’s definitely not aerobic; it’s go slow, stretch your muscles. People with arthritis can exercise easier in the water.”
“It’s hard work, but it’s fun,” said Barbara Harms, who believes that the water exercises helped her recover from the stroke she suffered two years ago.
Christine Hunter, 88, wasn’t up to exercising this day, but she said she plans to be back in the pool before the summer season ends this month.
“I’ve always loved the water,” she said. “My dad said I would learn to swim, and I did.”
In those days, she said, family and friends swam in creeks. “Then we moved to the river, and then pools came in. But we really love this pool.”