My Y Story: Karen LaBonte

Karen LaBonte

My Y Story: How One Y Aqua Instructor Impacts Lives

It was a bright morning at the Merrimack Y pool, hands were splashing, legs kicking, and lots of laughing and smiling, eyes were sparkling looking at their adoring instructor whom they admire.  You may think at first these words describe a preschool or youth swim class but it’s actually the scene at the Arthritis Aqua Solutions class at the Merrimack Y.  The participants were all smiles and it was obvious how much they cared for and enjoyed each other, their leader Karen LaBonte most of all.  Karen has been instructing aquatics exercise classes for 18 years, she first began as a volunteer and then moved toward gaining her certification.  LaBonte has taught several diverse types of classes and holds many certifications but she has a deep passion for the Arthritis Aqua Solutions class, “I have witnessed so many positive outcomes of this class for our members including some who have never been in a pool, others who have a strong fear of water, and those with personal self-image issues related to wearing a bathing suit.”

“There are so many aspects of this class that I love;  this class meets people where ever they are in their health journey to wellness; providing a safe, fun and effective medium to reclaim mobility, stability, strength and overall sense of well-being, not just physically but emotionally as well” Karen expressed.  “When people are challenged with injuries, pre/post-surgical therapy, age related physical changes, acute or chronic pain, it can be frustrating not being able to maintain daily activities, from self-care to hobbies as well as social interactions.” The Arthritis Aqua Solutions class tackles all of these challenges for those faced with the condition.

Arthritis is described as inflammation of one or more joints, causing pain and stiffness that can worsen with age. Different types of arthritis exist, each with different causes including wear and tear, infections, and underlying diseases. Chronic pain, deconditioning, depression and stress are common symptoms associated with arthritis, this is called The Chronic Illness Symptom Cycle, which is the relation between physical, psychological and social symptoms that commonly occur with arthritis. Arthritis Aqua Solutions is a class that takes place in the pool water and includes exercises that focus on improving movement and balance.  Exercising in the water helps with the ease of being able to conduct certain movements within the class.

Arthritis Aqua Solutions Class

Not only is the class beneficial physically it creates a sense of belonging and community among the participants, many of them shared they feel they are a family and they enjoy the camaraderie among each other.  “Many of the class members have made friends and participate in outside social activities with each other. They have also teamed up together and explored other classes that are offered at the YMCA. This group of members are warm and welcoming to new members, having compassion and understanding” Karen explained.

Karen’s empathy and compassion for her students doesn’t go unnoticed and is obvious from the start, it’s clear they feel the same. Member and class participant Mary Pat shared “As we age, some of us lose our ability to be peppy and active, or feel as though the expectations of an exercise instructor are far beyond our abilities.  Not so with Karen. From the minute I joined her class I felt like she really did care about me, not only physically but mentally as well.  She does not expect any of us to do anything that could be harmful or beyond our capabilities.  She often stops to check in and make sure we’re all OK.  Karen is a true gem.  I look forward to attending her class as often as I can.”

Karen’s commitment to the Y and the programs she teaches is so commendable, in return she sees benefits for herself  “I not only enjoy teaching this class but also on a personal  level, as a person with previous medical issues of chronic pain, immobility from post-surgical procedures and limited recovery from land based physical therapy. I have used water exercise and swimming for my recovery, not only increasing my full physical recovery but my psychological recovery as well.”

The Arthritis Aqua Solutions class is offered to all members who have mobility issues due to arthritis and various other health related issues, all ages are welcome.  Class is held at the Merrimack, YMCA facility on Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 – 10:15.  Members are encouraged to bring water, wear some type of comfortable foot wear to support them while exercising in the class, such as aqua shoes, clean sneakers or water sandals.  The pool includes an accessible lift for those that need it.

The Arthritis Aqua Solutions class is clearly so beneficial and impactful. Karen shared that she’s so grateful and wants to get the word out on this program, “I welcome anyone who is seeking to find a solution for improved health and well-being to come join us in the Arthritis Aqua Solutions class and explore water as a means to a happier, healthier life style.”

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