Swimming through Memories thanks to the Program for Active Living

Mary St. Marie loved nothing more as a young girl than running to the river with friends on a hot summer day to swim the afternoons away. She looks back to those days nearly a century ago with great fondness and wide smiles, and she recently shared these memories with Ciara Dunn during one of their exercise sessions together.  

Mary, now 100 years old, always loved to swim and Ciara, a kinesiology student from the University of Waterloo, helped get her back in the water 
Mary, now 100 years old, always loved to swim
and Ciara, a kinesiology student from the University
of Waterloo, helped get her back in the water 

Ciara is a University of Waterloo kinesiology student on placement in Mary’s home, The Village at University Gates just off the university campus. She was quickly drawn to Mary’s bright personality and contagious wit when she started at the Village in May.

“She’s one of the more bubbly residents and she had a great sense of humour, so she just kind of stuck in my mind,” Ciara says, describing her thoughts when she first met her new centenarian friend. Ciara had little experience with long-term care before University Gates, and meeting Mary gave her second thoughts on what it means to grow older.  

“People don’t think someone at Mary’s age or anyone in this kind of setting has goals for themselves,” Ciara says, but they do, and Mary shared hers in one of their first walks together. She wanted to be able to get up on her own without assistance from time to time throughout the day, even if only to use the washroom.

“I thought that was cool that they still have these goals,” Ciara says.

When Mary’s fond memories of swimming came up in conversation with University Gates kinesiologist Karen Poveda, “I think we should make it happen,” was Karen’s response, and a new goal came into being. When Mary learned that with the right bit of exercise ahead of time, she could visit the pool at the YMCA across the street, her eyes lit up.

She worked on her endurance over the course of three or four weeks, practicing stairs so she could manage the steps in the pool. “She really wanted to make it happen,” Ciara says, and she worked hard every day to get there.

“Even before we got to the pool, seeing her doing the stair climbing was blowing my mind,” Ciara says, and the day she arrived at the YMCA, she was fully prepared. “Once she was in the water, she had a smile on her face the whole time.”

They were in the pool for at least an hour.

“It was awesome,” Ciara says, “and afterwards she was so appreciative.”

Mary kept offering her gratitude to Ciara and Karen, but it was her effort entirely that moved her towards the goal. In her room after Tai Chi class one morning, she smiles wide when asked about her swimming adventure.

“I really liked that,” Mary says, noting with a chuckle that she doesn’t have the stamina of the girl from memory those decades ago, swimming the summers away in the Lynn River in the countryside of Southwestern Ontario.

At 100, she doesn’t really seem to have slowed too much, though, and that shows in her time in the gym with the Program for Active Living team.

“I do like the exercising,” she says. “It keeps you awake; it’s good for a person, but you mustn’t overdo it.”