Sunshine Club members and their instructor, Zachary Cayson, proudly show off their strength at a recent meetup.
This is the first in a monthly series in which we’ll visit a City of Huntsville Parks & Recreation Department facility and examine the activities taking place there.
Bobbing slightly up and down in the water, there’s a collection of colorful and creative bathing caps. Exercise is one thing, but drowning a fresh hair-do is another.
This class reminds you of what you’ve always heard about ducks. They may be floating gracefully and elegantly atop the water, but under the surface there’s a lot of frenzy going on.
Members of the Sunshine Club are in the shallow end of the pool at the City of Huntsville’s Dr. Richard Showers, Sr. Recreation Center for a daily aquacise class. Twenty or so women cling to baby-blue flotation devices as Scott Tucker, the instructor, offers instruction and praise in equal parts.
As class ends, they chat briefly with a visitor.
They are here for “socialization,” one says. Another points out that they often share meals and celebrate birthdays together. Another simply says, “It’s like a family.”
Then, finally, someone remembers, “It’s good for your health.”
As some women remain in the pool, as unwilling to leave as a child sent upstairs to bed, Linda Wilkins ambles past on the pool deck. She is using a walker. She has dealt with the ravages of polio most of her life, but more than any of the Sunshine ladies has found the Showers pool good for her health.
“It took a long time, but once I got over being scared, I’m physically able to do more than I thought I could,” she says. “One thing I couldn’t do before is swim.”
The Showers Center, one of dozens of facilities and parks managed by the City of Huntsville Parks and Recreation Department, is more than a gathering place for aquacise and for the Sunshine Club, which has been in existence for two decades and which involves itself in various charitable projects, including toys for children during the Christmas season and assistance for mothers in need.
The facility also has a weight room that is free to those 16 and up, a splash pad and, elsewhere on the campus, a gymnasium, ball fields and a branch of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. More than 230,000 people annually take advantage of the Showers Center.
The splash pad was part of a $1.2 million renovation that “turned this from a swimming pool into a swimming complex,” says Mick Roney, the Swimming Activities Supervisor for the Dr. Richard Showers, Sr. Pool.
The improvements led to the resurrection of competitive swimming after a long hiatus, with the Showers Sea Dragons joining the Huntsville Swim Association last summer.
Roney learned to swim in this very pool, back in 1968, after his grandfather bought him a $10 annual membership. He became a competitive swimmer, a lifeguard, a long-distance swimmer who swam from Ditto Landing to the I-65 bridge and has been with the City of Huntsville for 32 years.
He’s an advocate for swim lessons for all.
“You want to waterproof your babies as soon as you can,” Roney says. “It only takes a few second for someone to go under and drown. The most important thing you can do is teach people to swim and not be afraid of the water at a young age.”
Roney and his staff assumed the challenge last summer of teaching people to swim at a more advanced age. That included a number of the Sunshine Club members.
“It was more fun for us to watch their progress than it was for them to learn, I think,” Roney says.
At the end of the two-week course, Roney had the women jump off the diving board. Most did, though a few balked. Just a few weeks ago, a few of them “mustered up the courage and finally did it,” he says.
“It was very scary the first time,” says one Sunshiner. Another confessed to being “extra-intimidated” after having seen the movie “The Perfect Storm”, with its water-related trauma.
For some, their lessons brought a bonus. It encouraged them to have their children and grandchildren to take lessons. Or, for at least one, it brought a tinge of regret.
“I was taking my children to the pool when they were babies and I was in my 30s,” she says. “I should have gotten in there with them.”