Chase loves to be in the water. Even when he was a toddler, one of his favorite things to do was to be in the bathtub. I’d put a small amount of water in the bathtub and Chase would lay on his back, let the water fill his ears and just relax. So it was no surprise that when it came time for him to learn to swim as a young child, he took to it like a fish. His grandfather was a life guard, and a swim coach in Texas when he was growing up. This made swimming a great activity for my father to further bond with Chase over. He helped Chase to become the strong, confident, swimmer he is today. His Grandfather proudly refers to him as “a shark”. In fact, at the community pool where we used to live, on more than one occasion Chase calmly saved panic-stricken little ones from the deep end of the pool when they had wandered away from their sunbathing parents and babysitters.
It is a deep source of relief to me that Chase enjoys the water, and excels at swimming. Not simply because of the water safety aspect, but because of the vital importance of establishing the life-long health habit of exercising. And the fact that his naturally, preferred form of exercise is swimming, and that he is able to do it well, is a double blessing. I say this because one of Chase’s diagnoses is PVL (periventricular leukomalacia). Basically, PVL is a condition in which there has been a decreased blood or oxygen flow to the periventricular regions of the brain, which causes damage. This region of the brain is heavily involved in motor skills and control, posture, and vision systems. Therefore, people with PVL can exhibit various motor problems, vision deficits, apneas, seizures, and low heart rates. The extent of the symptoms depends on the extent of the damage. The condition varies greatly from person to person - from relatively minor deficits to more severe deficits requiring wheelchairs and other forms of physical assistance. Chase’s condition is on the minor end of the spectrum, and includes hypertonia and spasticity.
In a nutshell, this means that he has unusually high and constant tightness or stiffness in his lower extremities (legs, hips and pelvis). This affects Chase’s flexibility, balance, range of motion, and coordination. It also affects his gait, in that because of the rotation of his hips, his toes are forced outward when he walks (out-toeing), and his feet are flat. All of this makes high impact sports and exercises with a lot of running, very uncomfortable for him. Chase likes the camaraderie and action of sports like basketball, but his body doesn’t allow him to perform at top level. But swimming is a different story. While the hypertonia and spasticity make it impossible for him to point his toes when kicking or execute the “perfect” form for certain strokes, he has adjusted his form in ways that still allow him to swim with strength, speed, and in comfort.
Swimming is also an outstanding way for him to practice and sharpen his multi-tasking and memory skills. Coordinating upper and lower body movements, proper breathing techniques, touching the wall at the end of a race, and counting laps are tasks that he works hard to perfect while he’s enjoying his time in the pool.
Diagnoses aside, as his Mom, it makes me happy to know that he has a healthy, physical activity in his life that he can enjoy, even when he’s 90 years old.