Talking shop with Dr. Bruce E. Becker can be like deciphering code. Yet with a little patience, the professor in him finds a way to explain things that opens your mind to another world of possibilities. Then you realize he’s been speaking your language all along.

Apparently, Becker was speaking the National Swimming Pool Foundation’s language when it awarded his research team a $247,000 grant — twice the largest single amount it ever bestowed. Roughly half the funds are supporting his current study into the effects of water-based exercise on respiratory function. The other half is going toward the creation of a “laboratory of excellence” for continuing research on clinical aquatic therapy.

Perhaps the foremost expert in his field today, Becker has made the preservation and advancement of clinical aquatic therapy his vocation and cause. His aptly titled textbook, Comprehensive Aquatic Therapy (Elsevier, Philadelphia, 2004), might be the only authoritative reference on the subject, its history and practical applications. He’s made it his life’s work since the late 1970s.

In 1986, he began helping injured track and field Olympians maintain their physical conditioning while healing. That’s when he started using pools to recondition his patients because the buoyancy of the water allowed them to off load pressure from the injured areas.

He began publishing findings on the subject from his own clinical work, reaching out to physician groups, insurance companies and whoever would listen. It would be nearly three decades of blood, sweat and research before he found “a mutually beneficial partnership” to fund his studies, he says.

Now, many are hopeful to find what this synergy of science and commerce will mean to the future and growth of aquatics. “The center could potentially be huge for [the pool and spa industry],” Becker says. “You can gain a lot of recognition as an industry with clinically applied science.”

“You have to create an understanding that aquatics is safe and effective, that there are significant health benefits with research,” Becker continues. “If that understanding broadens across the nation, there will be a drive and community support to fund the building of more pools. It would be my dream that just as the Romans — the centers of culture in those times — built their society around pools and bathing facilities, eventually we’d realize what they seemed to know back then.” — Joshua Keim