Making a Splash

September 30, 2016 GMT

A year ago, making a trip to the grocery store was exhausting and painful for Andrew Kelley. After injuries and back surgeries, Kelley was close to giving up on living an active life. Then, he discovered an opportunity in his own neighborhood that has made a big impact in his life. Kelley, 56, has lived in Hanover for three years but only heard about open swim and water aerobics classes offered at Southwestern High School last fall. Since then, he’s been in the water as often as he can at pools in Hanover and Madison. “I was just about at the point where I was going to give up and accept that I was going to be in a wheelchair pretty soon,” Kelley said of his physical state a year ago. With degenerative disc disease, injuries and back surgery in his past, Kelley had already been in a wheelchair and more recently depended on a cane. “I could not walk from here to the door without it being very painful,” Kelley said Wednesday night before aerobics class. “I literally just live a few houses over, and it would take me about 20 minutes to make my way over here.” After the Southwestern pool closed for the spring and summer, Kelley started attending fitness sessions at Crystal Beach pool three to five times a week. In the past eight months, Kelley has lost around 25 pounds, regained his balance, built muscle and found an “incredible amount of mobility.” Though doctors had suggested he lose weight, attempts at going to the gym and other kinds of physical activity proved too painful. The water provides a buoyant atmosphere that’s easier on your body, he said, plus the social aspect makes for a workout that doesn’t feel like work. “The first day I showed up here, I got a lot of looks,” Kelley said, acknowledging his bushy beard and long hair. Most of his aerobics peers are older women, but Kelley said they soon welcomed him with open arms. Though he’s planning to move to Jennings County soon, he said he still plans to make a weekly trip back to Hanover to work out with his friends. Next summer, Kelley said he has even more plans with friends doing something he’s always wanted to: hiking the Appalachian trail. While his slightly younger friends plan to walk more of the trail, Kelley is excited that he’ll have the chance to keep up and get outdoors with active thirty-somethings. “That’s on my to-do list, maybe this next summer, hiking for two or three weeks. And a year ago that wasn’t even possible.” Southwestern Elementary teacher and water aerobics instructor Shelly Anderson-Hamilton said that Kelley is one of the program’s biggest success stories. “We’re really excited about the program anyway,” she said. “But to get to see somebody actually have success from it? It’s an achievement for him.” Once upon a time in the past year, Kelley’s swim buddies would help him walk the short distance from the bleachers to the steps into the pool. Today, Kelley is a new man - one who can’t even remember where he left his cane. “If I look back and compare it to when I was 20 and 30 and was bodybuilding and could bench-press more than I weigh now, it could be depressing. But to think that I couldn’t do it at all a year ago is pretty cool. “It’s given me back a lot of life that wasn’t there a year ago.” Southwestern’s pool is open to the public from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday until early March. Entry is $1 per person and $2 for aerobics classes from 7 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. For more information, call (812) 866-5786.