The work at the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham is to treat physical injuries and disabilities. But for its veterans, it’s also an opportunity to bring families together.
Lakeshore’s programming extends to anyone with a physical disability or illness. It offers a wide range of classes and therapies. Pool water is maintained at two temperatures to avoid overheating or cooling (93 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the therapy pool, 83 to 85 in the lap pool that’s also used for aerobics).
Caring for veterans
But the facility also offers a dedicated veterans program, Lima Foxtrot, with several camps for veterans who require physical therapy following an injury or illness during their service.
Operation Down Home, for example, invites families to perform adaptive recreational activities together. In many cases, it’s one of the first things a family has done together since the injury. “Sometimes [parents] want a child to see that, yes, Dad was injured, but he can still do a lot of things,” explains Emily Mallard, aquatics coordinator.
Since 2006, nearly 2,600 veterans have come through Lakeshore’s doors. They have experienced a variety of injuries, including spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, vision impairments, amputations, burns and disfigurements.
Over the years, the facility has expanded its Lima Foxtrot program. Through Operation Endurance, for example, veterans injured during active duty receive ongoing access to membership programs at no cost.
Lakeshore offers more specialized programs for veterans, as well. Operation Night Vision, for instance, serves those who have suffered eye injuries, while Operation Perseverance caters to veterans with injuries who may learn an adaptive sport. Operation Refocus was created specifically for female veterans, setting up a comfortable environment with activities that focus on the mind, body and spirit. And Operation Rise and Conquer is an extended outdoor adventure weekend for servicemen and women who sustained a significant injury or vision loss and includes outdoor activities such as kayaking, water skiing and tubing.
Array of services
Lakeshore’s typical aquatics programming includes swim lessons with a student:teacher ratio of 3:1 or less; aquatic Ai Chi for calming, body postural awareness; Parkinson’s aquatics; multiple sclerosis aquatics; and water volleyball using a beach ball. It also leads classes in other water activities, such as canoeing, kayaking, water trampoline, or water skiing. Many have reported improvement in their physical abilities and fitness, and some have even moved on to competitive swimming.
“A lot of people have physical disabilities that [leave them] unsure of what they can do,” says aquatics special Sharon Opkins. “We break down some barriers to help them achieve short-term goals, and it helps them see, ‘I can do this little thing; maybe next month I can do something else.’”