Adaptive Aquatics welcomes kids with disabilities into water

Sanford Wellness Center programs teach inclusive swimming and fitness skills

An Adaptive Aquatics instructor helps a young boy float in the swimming pool with a life vest and small toys.

Few things are quite as refreshing as a dip in water, whether it’s a pool or natural body of water.

Carole Wolf is making sure that’s something every child can experience.

She’s the Adaptive Aquatics instructor at the Sanford Wellness Center – Oxbow, and the only instructor who has a master’s degree in adaptive aquatics in a five-state radius.

A catered approach to swimming lessons

What exactly is adaptive aquatics? Wolf said it’s an individualized approach to swimming, catered to children with special needs.

“It’s a program that’s designed for what the child needs. What you do for child A might be different than what you do for child B. Basically, it’s to get the child to learn to swim to the best of their capability to keep them safe,” she said.

Sign up: Aquatics programs at Sanford Wellness Center

For nearly four decades she’s helped kids like 10-year-old Davis Harrington, who has cerebral palsy.

“Carole really looks at kind of what Davis’ disabilities are, but also what his abilities are,” said Anne Harrington, Davis’ mom. “And so kind of trying to harness that and use the things that he can do to help him in the water.”

Harrington said the program allows Davis to utilize muscles he wouldn’t otherwise.

“He can’t walk on his own, so movement is pretty limited during the day for him,” Harrington said. “But when he’s in the water, we put a floating collar around his neck so he has complete free movement with his arms and legs.

“Davis has difficulty talking, but when he’s in the water, there’s something about that movement with his body, where he some days is just a chatterbox and is talking nonstop.”

Starting adaptive aquatics

Wolf said it’s her passion, and life’s work.

“This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I started it in seventh and eighth grade in a pool with kids with Down syndrome, and Special Olympics, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.

Over three decades of teaching. 35 years to be exact.

It was then, 35 years ago, when her fire was lit. While teaching at a school in Sioux Falls, she noticed whenever the class would go to the pool, it seemed some students were left out.

“Why are they not learning to swim like everyone else? They were just in the pool floating with water wings (inflatable arm bands). I connected with a PT and an OT, and my bosses at the school. I wrote up an idea, and that’s kind of how it came to play,” Wolf explained.

More water resources at wellness center

And the program has taken off in a huge way. Wolf said the Sanford Wellness Center – Oxbow is a big reason why.

“The facility has made the program grow; the facility has given us two pools. The facility has given us a warm water pool, which we can start the younger kids to be comfortable. It’s like one big bathtub to them. We can bring in all the toys.

“It’s like one big playground. They’re learning, but they don’t realize it’s like school (or) like at work,” she said.

The main pool at the Sanford Wellness Center has helped Wolf train students for races, including the Special Olympics of South Dakota, which Wolf has played a part in for years.

Another reason the program has grown, Wolf explained, is the Water Buddy Exercise Program. The program is an aerobics class where adult wellness center members buddy up with a special needs student to help them swim.

“The members here at the wellness center have opened their arms to all our families that have come in. And so that has also allowed the program to grow,” she said.

What classes are available?

Since the facility has allowed Wolf to instruct in two separate pools, the warm water therapy pool and the main pool, it’s allowed more students the opportunity to learn to swim.

She said the 30- to 60-minute warm water pool classes are typically saved for younger kids. “We work a little bit, we play a little bit,” she said. That class is offered Mondays and Wednesdays, “anywhere from three to eight o’ clock at night.”

On Tuesdays and Thursdays are when Wolf offers the class in the main pool. She said that’s for older kids, and kids who have graduated from the warm water pool class.

By visiting the wellness center front desk, or calling (605) 261-5716, a parent can enroll their child in these classes.

Along with the Adaptive Aquatics program also comes the option for an Adaptive Personal Fitness program. With this, a student is paired with a personal trainer for cardio and strength training.

More than just students

Wolf’s passion for this work will never fade. She’s seen countless examples of how it’s helped her students.

And through it, her students have become her family.

“Teaching kids has always been my passion. I can’t explain why. I’ve always been, ‘help ‘em no matter if it’s school, it’s swimming, it’s working out, its going shopping, whatever.’

“It’s either the way I was raised, or this is still what I strongly believe in my faith of what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s who I am.”

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Posted In Community, Healthy Living, Inclusion at Sanford, Sanford Stories, Sioux Falls