With the exception of Memorial Day weekend, Phoenix saw more than its fair share of triple-digit high temperatures in May, and the thermometer readings are not likely to decrease as the summer progresses. But whether you have been in the Valley for decades, or 2012 will be your first summer here, there is no reason to be despondent, because the Virginia G. Piper Sports & Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities (SpoFit) and its new Aquatics Center are ready to help keep you cool.

As much as you might want to jump into one of SpoFit’s three pools, a common question is how one can enter and exit the water independently. Similarly, and even more importantly, being able to get in and out of the pools safely is a paramount goal.

SpoFit also wants to ensure that each program or activity it hosts maintains the high standard of its motto: “Universally Accessible, Independently Active”. The SpoFit and Aquatic Center staffs have considered the questions of independence and safety thoroughly, and to that end, the Aquatic Center is equipped with multiple chairlifts, and elevators.

Here are three options for accessible ways to enter and exit each of the three pools:

  • Two Water Elevators: there is one elevator each for the main pool and therapy pool, and each holds a maximum of 500 pounds. By either walking into the elevator or utilizing the heavy-duty water wheelchair, swimmers can then be lowered into the water at the turn of a lever. A metal handrail has also been installed for extra stability. A separate door opens into the water at the bottom, and swimmers can wade into the pool from there. This may prove to be the easiest access point for many SpoFit members, especially for those who use a walker, cane or crutches. People with spasticity in their muscles and joints – such as those with Cerebral Palsy – could also benefit from the water elevator, which eliminates the need to use stairs or even a ramp to get into the pools.

SpoFit has two water wheelchairs that can be used with the two water elevators, which lowers into either pool. The heavy-duty water chairs are a good option for wheelchair users, and for people who have difficulty balancing or standing on land for long periods of time, especially when used with the water elevator. It has a 400-pound weight capacity.

  • Ramp: Between all three pools is a ramp that leads down to a transfer bench at the main pool, and the sides of the other two pools.  Swimmers can transfer into the pools from their personal wheelchairs.
  • Three Mechanical Hydraulic Chairs: The third accessible entry option SpoFit members have when visiting the Aquatic Center is to use one of three mechanical chairs that can be lowered into any of the three pools. These chairs are equipped with seatbelts, are entirely user-operated and are meant to withstand up to 500 pounds. Once you are secured in the seat, a few clicks of a wireless (and waterproof) remote allow you to lower yourself right into the water. Additionally, a footplate is installed on each chair. If you are a wheelchair user and feel most comfortable transferring into another seat to get from the deck to the water, the accessible chair may be the optimal choice.
A SpoFit member uses the water chair and the water elevator to access the therapy pool.

Of course, all SpoFit staff encourages members to be as independent as possible when participating in programs and events. However, if you need to learn more about how to properly operate the accessibility equipment described above, do not hesitate to ask. While a primary goal is always to make the Aquatic Center both a place to learn new skills and enjoy the water, it is much easier to do that when everyone also remains safe.

For more information about the Aquatic Center, including an events calendar, frequently asked questions and various pool rules, visit spofit.org/aquatics. SpoFit is a program of Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL) and is located at 5031 E Washington St. in Phoenix.


AquaStretch Sessions at SpoFit

Donna Adler, working with a member at the therapy pool.

One of the most relaxing and physically beneficial offerings at SpoFit’s Aquatic Center is AquaStretch, led by Donna Adler, ATRIC. Ms. Adler, who is certified in Aquatic Therapeutic Exercise works with individuals on a one-on-one basis by appointment. She says people with various disabilities, from multiple sclerosis to cerebral palsy, find relief from spastic muscles, muscle tension or “chronic aches and pains”.

AquaStretch’s effectiveness can be attributed to the different physical dynamic the water provides to a person with a disability. While on land, it may be more challenging for a person’s muscles to reach an optimal stretching point during a physical therapy session, for example. Aquatic therapy such as AquaStretch makes it easier to move and helps to relieve tension throughout the body.

Donna believes AquaStretch often alleviates arthritis pain, achieves neuromuscular balance, control and coordination. For some, it may also restore flexibility and reduce muscle soreness.

Membership at SpoFit is not required to make an appointment with Ms. Adler and each AquaStretch session costs one dollar per minute.