Imagine how you’d feel if you couldn’t move your body well enough to operate a wheelchair, let alone walk under your own power. Then imagine the feeling of liberation you would have in rising out of those physical confines and moving around under your own power.
It’s tough for those of us who don’t face such challenges to perceive what life would be like if we were almost completely dependent on a wheelchair and other people just to get around, but it might even be tougher to recognize the sense of joy we would experience in liberating ourselves from that circumstance, if only for a while.
For the past several months, I’ve had the opportunity to watch someone go through this process of discovery and delight. Mario Aiello is 18 years old and, despite a bright smile, has a range of disabilities too long to list. He and his uncle, Ignacio, and his older brother, Juan, work out together in the indoor swimming pool at the health club I visit in southern California. As a devotee of the benefits of swimming, I log lots of laps each week and, on numerous occasions by now, have been in the pool when Mario, Ignacio and Juan go through their routine – and it’s really something to behold.
For starters, there’s the warmth and laughter the three of them share from the moment they enter the club that puts a smile on the face of just about everyone they meet. Getting Mario ready for the water takes several minutes, and they move through the process with obvious anticipation and a great deal of patience. When he’s ready, Mario, in water-skiing vest and goggles, is lowered into the water via a lift. Once he’s immersed, Ignacio and Juan carefully ease him out of the seat and stay by his side in the water at all times.
As a unit, they splash and laugh and slowly move up and down one of the pool’s 25-meter lanes. While in the water, Mario uses his arms to move under his own power, and it’s clear from the look on his face that he’s quite intoxicated by this degree of physical freedom. They usually stay in the pool for about an hour. The entire time, Mario churns along in what can only be described as a vigorous workout.
I’m sure this is a scene repeated daily in thousands of other locations around the world, and I can only hope that others who observe these aquatic activities are as struck as I am by the joy and power of it all.
After witnessing Mario’s routines for many weeks, I found an opportunity to introduce myself to the trio and explained why I was interested in talking to them and hearing about their experiences. Only Ignacio speaks much English, and through most of our conversation all three looked at me as though I had two heads, especially when I told them I was considering writing about them in print. They were polite and cooperative, but it was clear that their sole interest was making sure Mario had fun exercising in the water.
Since our brief discussion, they now smile and wave at me as they go about their business in and around the pool. I’m humbled and inspired by knowing them, however slightly, and it makes me proud to be associated with the design, engineering and construction of watershapes that afford such people, worldwide, with such a simple (yet profound) benefit.
What could be better than fostering simple human dignity and giving families the chance to display their love and support for one another?